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International relations

U.S. Congress weighs plan to finance Taiwan weapon purchases

American lawmakers increasingly concerned about potential China invasion

Taiwanese soldiers hold rifles during a training session at a camp base in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on March 25.   © AP

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Congress is considering a plan to provide several billion dollars of financial support to Taiwan so the island can procure weapons, according to three sources connected to the legislature.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns in Congress about a potential China invasion of Taiwan, and lawmakers see the need to boost the island's defense capabilities.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to complete deliberations on the plan as early as this summer.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who chairs the committee, in December indicated he intended to prepare a broad bipartisan bill on Taiwan support. It has been suggested that the bill include financial support. A separate debate on possible financial support is also underway in the House of Representatives.

The sources said Congress is considering a State Department framework called Foreign Military Financing, under which grants and loans can be provided so Taiwan can purchase U.S. weapons and conduct military exercises.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has asked Congress for an allocation of $6 billion in the budget for the fiscal year ending September 2023

Originally, Republicans were championing financial support for Taiwan. In November, Sen. Jim Risch and five other Republicans sponsored a "Taiwan deterrence act," calling for financial support for Taiwan's weapons procurement. Now Democrats seem closer to endorse the financial support.

"I think we are very optimistic that this will be a bipartisan issue," said a congressional aide with direct knowledge of the internal discussion. "I'm sure you know very well how much support there is for Taiwan in Congress."

Eric Sayers, a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a strong advocate of Foreign Military Financing for Taiwan, is also confident that it will garner broad support on both sides of the aisle. "Let's take steps now to accelerate Taiwan's investment in key capability areas to deter the PRC [People's Republic of China] and the PLA [People's Liberation Army]," he said. "I think that message is starting to land and expand on the Hill."

Financing is likely to be provided for the purchase of weapons to counter potential Chinese landing operations on Taiwan shores. The arms might include anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles to target Chinese warships and fighter jets. They might also include drones used to collect information.

Congress is in a rush to provide support to Taiwan as the U.S. military believes China plans to build up its military capabilities to a level needed to invade Taiwan by 2027.

In early May, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, the top commander of the U.S. military, reiterated that China plans to build up its military capabilities to invade Taiwan by 2027.

"That is the target on the wall, 2027," Milley said. "We have to keep that in mind as we go into the future."

It is widely believed that Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who counts Taiwan among China's core interests, will secure a nearly unprecedented third term at the Communist Party's National Congress this autumn. That term would then expire in 2027.

"Just given what we're seeing, there has been a broader recognition that we don't have as much time as we'd like potentially," a congressional aide said. "But we need to do everything we can to prepare, and make sure that Taiwan is prepared, and get ahead of the problem."

Having seen Russia struggle in its attempt to seize Ukraine, some observers say China might delay any invasion of Taiwan. But few lawmakers in Washington are calling for the U.S. to scale down support for Taiwan's self-defense capabilities.

"We don't want to be in a position where we have to figure out how to resupply Taiwan during a conflict, as we are with Ukraine," said David Sacks, a research fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Taiwan has few ports and airports, making it easy for China to figure out which routes U.S. supplies might take. That exposes logistics operations to potential precision attacks by China. The key for Taiwan is to build up its weapons inventory as much as it can before any conflict begins.

Ukraine, with an area about 16 times larger Taiwan, has avoided Russian attacks by using multiple supply routes, mainly overland. The western part of Ukraine, where a supply base is believed to be located, has not been exposed to serious Russian attacks yet.

"Whereas, in Taiwan, the entire island is going to be a battlespace," Sacks said.

Taiwan was scheduled to procure 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles from the U.S. by March 2026, but in early May, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said the deliveries might be delayed. It also said deliveries of M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, which had been scheduled for 2023 through 2025, will be pushed back to 2026 or later.

Some experts have attributed the delays to a shortage of components. With the U.S. having supplied large numbers of Stingers to the Ukrainian military, a growing number of lawmakers suspect this has affected plans for Taiwan.

While the U.S. military is not directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine, it has not ruled out the possibility of a military intervention should a conflict erupt in Taiwan. If the U.S. military intervenes, the country's defense industry would be put to a test as the U.S. would have to supply weapons to both its military and that of Taiwan.

Another critical issue is whether Congress can come up with the funds to support Taiwan. Foreign Military Financing measures currently provide funds mainly for Israel, and it would be politically difficult to cut Israeli aid, multiple congressional insiders said.

The U.S. would therefore have to increase Foreign Military Financing allocations. But with Democrats generally negative about expanding defense spending, talks on allocations may be hotly debated.

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