By Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would significantly enhance U.S. military support for Taiwan, including provisions for billions of dollars in additional security assistance, as China increases military pressure on the democratically governed island.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 by 17-5, despite concerns about the bill in U.S. President Joe Biden's administration and anger about the measure from Beijing.
The strong bipartisan vote was a clear indication of support from both Republicans and Biden's fellow Democrats for changes in U.S. policy toward Taiwan, such as treating it as a major non-NATO ally.
Sponsors said the bill would be the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy toward the island since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 - the bedrock of U.S. engagement with what China views as one of its provinces since Washington opened up relations with Beijing that year.
"We need to be clear-eyed about what we are facing," said Senator Bob Menendez, the committee's Democratic chairman, while stressing that the United States does not seek war or heightened tensions with Beijing.
"If we want to ensure Taiwan has a fighting chance, we must act now," said Senator Jim Risch, the committee's top Republican, arguing that any change in the status quo for Taiwan would have "disastrous effects" for the U.S. economy and national security.
Taiwan's presidential office thanked the Senate for its latest show of support, saying the bill will "help promote the Taiwan-U.S. partnership in many ways", including security and economic cooperation.
The bill would allocate $4.5 billion in security assistance for Taiwan over four years, and supports its participation in international organizations.
The act also includes extensive language on sanctions toward China in the event of hostilities across the strait separating the mainland from Taiwan.
When the bill was introduced in June, China responded by saying it would be "compelled to take resolute countermeasures" if Washington took actions that harmed China's interests.
"We haven't discussed any specifics," Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to Washington, told reporters at an event at the Capitol when asked if she has had discussions with the White House over specific sanctions.
"We talked about integrated deterrence in a broader sense of the need to explore different tools to ensure that the status quo in the Taiwan Strait can be maintained," Hsiao said.
She said she had expressed "gratitude" to Congress for the legislation. "Given the complication of different views here in the United States too, we're hoping that we can reach some consensus on security, which is our top priority," she said.
The committee's approval paved the way for a vote in the full Senate, but there has been no word on when that might take place. To become law, it must also pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Biden or win enough support to override a veto.
The White House said on Tuesday it was in talks with members of Congress on how to change the act to ensure that it does not change long-standing U.S. policy toward Taiwan that it considers effective.
The Taiwan bill is likely to be folded into a larger piece of legislation expected to pass late this year, such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual bill setting policy for the Department of Defense.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and Kim Coghill)