Senate lawmakers on Friday introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul U.S. policy toward Taiwan, defining key American commitments to the democratic island’s defense against a Chinese military invasion.
The legislation, called the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, was introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The lawmakers said the proposed bill represents the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy toward Taiwan in more than four decades.
“As Beijing continues to seek to coerce and isolate Taiwan there should be no doubt or ambiguity about the depth and strength of our determination to stand with the people of Taiwan and their democracy,” Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
The legislation seeks to more clearly define America’s commitments to the island that have long been outlined by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
The lawmakers call for $4.5 billion in security assistance for Taiwan over four years.
The bill also creates a new initiative to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities and to designate Taiwan a Major Non-NATO Ally, a significant label that provides the island benefits in the areas of defense, trade and security cooperation.
Other initiatives in the bill include supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and multilateral trade architecture, a move that is likely to draw strict opposition from Beijing.
Beijing views the island as part of China and pushes back against any moves by foreign governments or international organizations that appear to legitimize Taiwan as an independent country.
The proposed legislation comes in the wake of reported statements last week from Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe that China will “not hesitate to start a war” and “smash to smithereens Taiwan.”
U.S. intelligence officials have earlier warned that there is an “acute” threat of China invading Taiwan by 2030 and that Beijing is weighing the risk of such action by watching closely the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion against Ukraine.
“We live in dangerous times. China is sizing up America and our commitment to Taiwan,” Graham said in a statement. “The danger will only grow worse if we show weakness in the face of Chinese threats and aggression toward Taiwan.”
The legislation also follows President Biden’s remarks that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense militarily if China sought to take control of the island by force, most recently during a visit to Japan last month.
The remarks sparked confusion over whether it represented a change in U.S. policy, a historic stance of “strategic ambiguity,” where Washington provides Taiwan defensive support but does recognize the democratically governed island as independent from Beijing.
White House officials quickly sought to clarify that the president was not announcing a change in U.S. policy.
Yet lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration with ambiguous U.S. policy, calling for Washington to more forcefully show its support of Taiwan in light of increased threats and military posturing from Beijing.