US Senator Lindsey Graham and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during a meeting at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan, April 15, 2022. Photo: Taiwan Presidential Office

WASHINGTON – On September 14, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, a measure co-sponsored by hawkish committee chairman Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

If passed by the full Congress and signed into law by the Biden administration, the landmark act would signal yet another significant shift away from the One China policy that has been US policy and underwritten relations with Beijing for the past half-century. 

According to the new legislation, “The security of Taiwan and the ability for the people of Taiwan to determine their own future is fundamental to United States interests and values.”

In addition to providing Taiwan with US$4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years, the bill would “establish a comprehensive training program with the Government of Taiwan.”

The program, according to the text of the legislation, would seek to achieve more interoperability between the US and Taiwanese militaries. Joint US-Taiwan contingency tabletop exercises, war games and what the bill calls “robust, operationally relevant, or full-scale” military exercises are also proposed in the bill.

Still more, the Menendez-Graham measure proposes Taiwan to be designated as a “major non-NATO ally”, a US government designation that confers a variety of military and financial advantages.

In a self-congratulatory statement after the vote, Menendez praised the bill, saying he was “incredibly proud to lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in speaking on behalf of the US Congress so Beijing understands they have failed in trying to dictate what we can do and how, just like they will fail in preventing the United States from standing up for the people of Taiwan.”

US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez led a congressional delegation to visit Taiwan in April 2022. Photo: Taiwan Presidential Office

The bill won bipartisan support from the SFRC, including from progressive Senator Jeff Merkley (D-WA) who was quoted after the vote as saying, “If we don’t crank up our support for Taiwan, there will be a military offensive” against the self-governing island Beijing considers a renegade province that must be “reunified” with the mainland.

Yet some critics believe that, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial lightning rod trip to Taiwan in August, the Mendez-Graham measure will only serve to ratchet up tensions in the region. Some analysts and experts see even bigger risks at play.

“Current pro-Taiwan advocates are putting the very foundation of US-China relations at grave risk,” said Lyle Goldstein, a visiting professor at the Watson Institute at Brown University and director of Asia engagement at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

“Nixon and Kissinger correctly built a strong foundation for that relationship based on realism that accepted the One China principle. That realism has enabled peace in the Asia-Pacific for nearly half a century and a relatively stable and pragmatic US-China relationship,” Goldstein said.

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “that crucial basis for US-China relations is now threatened by the increasingly ideological tendencies sweeping over the American capital. These tendencies are informed by myriad false assumptions: that China seeks military primacy, that the diplomatic status quo cannot be maintained, that Taiwan forms a vital national security interest for the US, and that the US can continue to blithely pile up heaps of arms on Taiwan without provoking a Chinese military response.”

That all said, it is still questionable whether the saber-rattling Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 will become law. The White House reportedly has had deep misgivings about the legislation.

Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator with Japan and China for the Reagan administration and now vice-president for global affairs at Cardinal Wealth Management, tells Asia Times, “I think the bill is unnecessary and that in the end it probably will not become law. De facto, the Biden administration is already essentially doing what the bill calls for, but it is not shouting to the heavens about what it is doing.

Taiwanese soldiers applaud as Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (not in picture) arrives at a military base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan on September 10, 2019. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh

“The bill won’t change anything on the ground, and it will unnecessarily antagonize Beijing for no good purpose,” he says.

But even if the legislation fails to make it to the president’s desk, parts of it could be smuggled into law if included in next year’s defense omnibus budget.

Nevertheless, Menendez, Graham and the bipartisan foreign policy “blob” are playing a dangerous and unnecessary game on China’s doorstep through the legislation.

“A US-China military conflict over Taiwan could make the Russia-Ukraine conflict look like a minor brushfire by comparison,” Goldstein warns. “If current dangerous trends persist, Washington and Beijing are on a direct collision course and the results will be catastrophic for the entire world.”

James Carden

James W Carden is a former adviser to the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the US Department of State. His articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Nation, The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, The Spectator, UnHerd, The National Interest, Quartz, the Los Angeles Times and American Affairs.