WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday advanced a sprawling bill that would give Taiwan the same benefits as major non-NATO allies, provide $6.5 billion in military aid, expedite arms sales and prioritize the transfer of excess U.S. defense articles there.
The Foreign Relations Committee advanced the Taiwan Policy Act 17-5 after amending certain provisions to address the White House’s concerns with some components of the legislation.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Defense News this week that the changes occurred following “some very constructive conversations” with national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “We’ve heard their views, and we think we’re landing in a good spot that still produces a very strong bill and then meets and assuages some of their concerns,” Menendez said.
The bipartisan bill would provide $6.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan through 2027 via Foreign Military Financing — a program that provides foreign countries the ability to purchase U.S. military equipment with grants and loans. The initial bill would have provided $4.5 billion through 2026, but the committee amended the legislation with a $2 billion increase.
At the same time, the initial bill would have designated Taiwan as a major non-NATO ally, a designation that falls short of a mutual defense pact but helps expedite arms transfers. The amended version that the Foreign Relations Committee advanced instead states that “Taiwan shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally.”
While the new language allows Taiwan to receive all the same benefits as non-NATO allies under U.S. law, it stops short of a formal designation that could raise questions about Washington’s recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty — a matter that could potentially upend Sino-U.S. relations.
Still, the designation will help accelerate Taiwan’s purchases of U.S. military equipment. Taiwan currently faces a $14 billion backlog in delivery of weapons it purchased from the United States via the Foreign Military Sales process, according to a document obtained by Defense News in April.
The Taiwan Policy Act directs the Defense and State departments to “prioritize and expedite” foreign military sales for Taipei and prohibits both departments from delaying the sales through a bundling route, whereby a defense manufacturer would simultaneously produce weapons systems from multiple contracts.
The amended version of the legislation also builds upon that language with several other provisions to address the backlog. Chiefly, the new language also requires U.S. defense manufacturers to “expedite and prioritize” the production of weapons that Taiwan purchased above other items in their queues. Another new provision would require the Defense and State departments to develop a list of weapons systems that are “pre-cleared and prioritized for sale and release to Taiwan through the foreign military sales program.”
The State Department approved earlier this month an additional $1.1 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, including logistics support for Taipei’s Surveillance Radar Program, 60 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 100 Sidewinder tactical missiles.
The initial version of the Taiwan Policy Act would also have allowed the president to establish a “war reserve stockpile” that would authorize the placement of pre-positioned U.S. munitions and other assets in Taiwan for use against a Chinese attack. The amended bill instead alters this to a “regional contingency stockpile” at an unspecified location, but still allocates $500 million per year in funding for those stocks through 2025.
Lastly, the bill directs the president to establish a five-year plan to prioritize the delivery of excess defense articles to Taiwan while requiring the Defense and State departments to develop a comprehensive training program with the Taiwanese military.
“This program will accelerate Taiwan’s military reform and expand training for the Taiwanese military using realistic scenarios,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Rand Paul, R-Ky., were the five committee members who voted against the legislation.
In addition to numerous other nondefense provisions, the bill also includes sanctions on China if it “is knowingly engaged in a significant escalation in aggression” against Taiwan. China considers the island a rogue province and has threatened to return it under the mainland’s control, by force if necessary.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.