Menendez seeks path forward for Taiwan defense bill

WASHINGTON — The senators who last month advanced a sprawling bill that includes $6.5 billion in military aid for Taiwan are hoping to pass it into law as part of the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Defense News last week he is leading the charge to include the Taiwan Policy Act as an amendment to the NDAA, which the Senate is scheduled to start debating this month.

“We will do as much as we can on the Taiwan Policy Act in the NDAA,” said Menendez. “That’s our goal.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bipartisan bill 17-5 last month after amending certain provisions to address White House concerns about some components of the legislation.

The bipartisan bill would provide $6.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan through 2027 via Foreign Military Financing — a program that allows other countries to purchase U.S. military equipment with grants and loans. The legislation also gives Taiwan the same benefits as a major non-NATO ally, expedites arms sales and prioritizes the transfer of excess U.S. defense articles there.

The bill includes a wide array of other non-defense components, including sanctions on China if it “is knowingly engaged in a significant escalation in aggression” against Taiwan. China considers Taiwan a rogue province and has threatened to return it under the mainland’s control, by force if necessary.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., told Defense News his committee would “take a look” at the legislation.

“The other thing too is we’ll get the opinion of the State Department and also the Department of Defense,” said Reed.

Menendez said he intends to propose adding the Taiwan Policy Act in its entirety to the NDAA. “But then we’ll have to see what might have to be amended in order to get the ball rolling,” he continued. “The defense stuff I’ve got to believe is pretty solid.”

The defense portion of the bill also allows the president to establish an Asia-Pacific “regional contingency stockpile” at an unspecified location, allocating $500 million per year in funding for those stocks through 2025.

The bill contains language intended to ameliorate the $14 billion backlog of weapons Taiwan 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. It also requires U.S. defense manufacturers to “expedite and prioritize” the production of weapons that Taiwan purchased.

Another 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.”

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.

Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and 36 of his fellow Republicans announced their own version of the Taiwan Policy Act last week. Although many of the defense provisions are the same as those in the House bill, it also includes several provisions the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amended or struck in its bipartisan bill following Menendez’s meetings with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Those include a provision that would have renamed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington the Taiwan Representative Office and another that would have elevated the position of the top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan by requiring Senate confirmation.

“Now is the time to arm our ally — before an invasion occurs, not after,” McCaul said in a statement upon announcing his bill. “Deterrence is key to stopping the [Chinese Communist Party] from provoking a conflict that would seriously harm U.S. national security.”