Paving the way for the U.S. defense budget to hit a record $858 billion next year, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that could provide as much as $10 billion in aid to Taiwan over five years.
The House passed the compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon, by a 350-80 vote on Thursday. It includes $45 billion more than President Joe Biden proposed.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.
The NDAA incorporates the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act (TERA), which was introduced by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in June and passed the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in September.
The wrapped-in TERA legislation would establish a specific defense modernization program for Taiwan. If the secretary of state verifies that Taiwan is increasing its own defense budget, the United States would be authorized to provide up to $2 billion in military financial assistance to Taiwan each year from 2023 to 2027, for a total of up to $10 billion over five years.
The NDAA also includes a new foreign military financing loan to guarantee authorization and other measures to accelerate Taiwan's weapons procurement and develop training programs to enhance Taiwan's defense capabilities.
"This national defense bill will be one of the most consequential in years not only for its support of our service members, but for setting the theater for real deterrence by implementing a more resilient strategy for Taiwan should China continue pursuing a collision course toward war," said Menendez, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, in an announcement Wednesday.
Taiwan has long been a flashpoint in the U.S.-China relationship. China claims the self-governing island democracy as part of its territory. And while the U.S. has a "one China" policy that recognizes Beijing as the sole legal government of China, it considers Taiwan's status as unsettled.
Since taking office, Biden has on several occasions suggested that the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily if China attempted to retake the island by force, appearing to deviate from the U.S. tradition not stating definitively how it would respond to Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
Beijing's incursions into Taiwan's airspace and waters have raised concerns about Beijing's intentions. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited in August, China launched military exercises suggesting it could blockade the island.
"China's rapid military build-up, with new technologies and weapons that could be used against Taiwan … are upsetting the status quo and destabilizing the Indo-Pacific," said Menendez. "The China challenge has become the most significant national security issues our nation has faced in a generation and I am incredibly proud … to bolster our support for Taiwan's democracy before it is too late."
The NDAA, if passed, would direct the executive branch to strengthen, develop and report on Taiwan's national defense and resilience.
Representative Steve Chabot, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Asia Pacific Panel, said in an interview with VOA Mandarin on Wednesday that support for strengthening Taiwan's defense in the NDAA could send a clear signal to Beijing.
"I think the most significant thing continues to be that China understands that if they act militarily towards Taiwan, the U.S. is going to be there. And that's why I've always felt that strategic clarity rather than strategic ambiguity ought to be our policy," Chabot said.
The NDAA is responsible for establishing the authorized programs for defense spending, while the final appropriation amounts are legislated by the congressional appropriations committees. According to a December 1 report in Defense News, some Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee have expressed concerns about providing such high levels of funding for military assistance to Taiwan.
As a result, Congress is still discussing with the State Department, the Defense Department and the White House how to assist Taiwan in improving its defense capabilities.
Chabot responded by saying he understands there are different considerations from some representatives, but "it's very important that Taiwan receive adequate funding in the NDAA."
"I've always felt that was a priority to make sure that Taiwan is able to withstand any sort of aggression by (China). And so I think, even more significant this year, than it normally is."
Bo Gu contributed to this report