U.S. lawmakers vow to help Taiwan strengthen defense against growing Chinese aggression

Taipei, Taiwan — A bipartisan congressional delegation from the United States met Taiwan’s new president in Taipei Monday, and reiterated Washington’s strong support for the democratic island. 

During the meeting with the U.S. delegation Lai Ching-te, who took office on May 20, promised to keep pushing for defense reform in Taiwan and show the world that “Taiwanese people are determined to defend their homeland.” 

He hopes that “the U.S. Congress will continue to help strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities and increase exchanges and cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. through a variety of legislative actions.” 

At a news briefing following the meeting with Lai, Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. remains committed to supporting Taiwan’s efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities as China increases military pressure on the island. 

“We will support you, and we will get the weapons you purchased to you as soon as possible,” he told dozens of journalists, adding that strength and deterrence are key to ensuring the Taiwan Strait remains peaceful and prosperous. 

The visit comes three days after the Chinese military staged a two-day, large-scale military exercise encircling Taiwan. Describing the Chinese war game around Taiwan as “an intimidation tactic to punish democracy,” McCaul said there is more urgency to ensure Taiwan receives the weapons that it has bought from the United States. 

“We are moving forward on [the delivery] of these weapons systems, but I’d like to see it faster,” he said during the news conference, noting that the $95 billion foreign aid package that the U.S. passed last month, which includes a $8 billion package for the Indo-Pacific region and Taiwan, is a sign of Washington’s support for Taiwan. 

While he promises to help accelerate the pace of weapons delivery to Taiwan, McCaul admitted that the backlog of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which is about $19 billion, is partially caused by the limited military industrial capacity in the U.S. 

“We have to wait a period of two to five years for the weapons to go into the country and that is way too long,” he said, vowing to push U.S. defense contractors and the Biden administration to address the issue. 

Since China focused on simulating a maritime blockade around Taiwan through its latest military exercise, McCaul said Taipei and Washington should focus on helping the island acquire more maritime assets to deal with a potential Chinese attack. 

“What they did the last couple of days was essentially a preview of what a blockade would look like [and] by looking at what type of military assets would likely help deter Beijing from [imposing] a blockade around Taiwan, my view is that maritime assets are key here,” he told journalists. 

Bipartisan support for Taiwan 

Some analysts say the U.S. Congressional delegation’s visit shows that the support for Taiwan in Washington is consistent and bipartisan. “There have been many U.S. congressional delegations in Taiwan over the last few years and one feature to highlight is that all these delegations are bipartisan,” Chen Fang-yu, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan, told VOA by phone. 

Despite the stern warning from Beijing, other experts say the visit shows both Taipei and Beijing that the U.S. is committed to deepening ties with Taiwan. “The delegation sends a message that the United States is not afraid of angering China by maintaining its engagement with Taiwan,” said Li Da-Jung, director of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Taiwan’s Tamkang University. 

Since the delegation will spend four days in Taiwan, Li thinks it could give U.S. lawmakers more opportunities to meet more Taiwanese officials and visit specific places of their interests. “I believe the delegation will meet Taiwanese officials in charge of national security and cross-strait relations,” he told VOA by phone. 

In addition to military sales and weapons delivery, Chen said the U.S. delegation will likely discuss topics related to bilateral trade relations and Taiwan’s divided legislature. 

“I believe the U.S. lawmakers will try to talk about the ongoing trade negotiation between Taipei and Washington and the potential impact of Taiwan’s divided legislature on Taiwan’s defense and foreign policies when they meet Lai and other Taiwanese officials,” he told VOA. 

Earlier this month, Taiwan and the U.S. held a new round of trade negotiations focusing on potential cooperation in areas such as labor, environmental protection, and agriculture. Taiwan’s deputy trade representative Yang Jen-ni said Taipei hopes to increase the volume of Taiwanese agricultural exports to the U.S. through the trade talks. 

As Taiwan’s new government looks to deepen ties with the U.S., the Chinese government has repeatedly warned Washington not to use the democratic island, which Beijing views as its territory, to contain China. 

“China firmly opposes official interaction in any form between Taiwan and the United States and opposes U.S. interference in Taiwan affairs in any form or under any pretext,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during the daily news conference on May 21. 

Since relations between Taiwan and China are unlikely to improve in the short term, Li at Tamkang University said the Lai administration may try to double down on Taipei’s relations with like-minded democracies around the world, especially the U.S. 

“At a time when there is very little room to improve cross-strait relations, Lai may consider putting the focus of his foreign policy agenda on the U.S. and rely more on Washington’s support for Taipei,” he told VOA. 

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