U.S. lawmakers now stipulate that the $2 billion per year allocated to Taiwan for military purchases over the next five years will be given as loans. This comes after the U.S. Congress gifted another $45 billion to Ukraine on top of the $68 billion Ukraine already received this year, and the $3.8 billion given to Israel per year.
News outlets have been befuddled by the mind-bending confusion created by the many separate spending bills that the U.S. Congress is now squashing into one massive “omnibus” spending bill for 2023. The Taiwan News website reported on December 16 that first the U.S. House and then the U.S. Senate passed a defense spending bill that includes non-repayable grants for Taiwan’s military of $2 billion per year over five years, plus another $2 billion per year in loans to Taiwan for buying U.S. weapons. The news article concluded by saying that all that remains is for the bill to be sent to the White House, where President Biden is expected to sign it into law.
Alas, the U.S. budget process took yet another turn on Tuesday, December 21, when the U.S. Congress released its fiscal 2023 “omnibus spending bill” — the big bill that binds all other bills. The final “omnibus” bill was released on Tuesday and it added the stipulation that Taiwan’s military aid will only be given in the form of loans, which would have to be paid off within 12 years. And now that the dust is settling it is becoming clear that those loans will be limited to $2 billion dollars per year from 2023 to 2027. The final language of the omnibus bill only authorizes funding in the form of direct loans and removed the earlier provision that called for providing non-repayable grants to Taiwan of up to $2 billion annually from 2023 to 2027 “for military-related purposes in the face of China’s military pressure.”
The news was a blow for Taiwan, whose diplomatic office in Washington told reporters last week they hoped the funding would be in the form of “grants.” There is a chance that these $2 billion loans would turn into grants in the future, but for any funding used in 2023 at least, Taiwan would have to budget for the eventual repayment.
The fact that the yearly loan allocation will end in 2027 is significant, as many analysts believe China is aiming for 2027 as the year it wants to be ready to invade Taiwan. For instance, before vacating his position as chief of the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson stunned military analysts by stating that China could very well take advantage of the “decade of concern” and invade Taiwan by 2027.
Admiral Davidson said there’s a real possibility that China will attack Taiwan between 2021 and 2027, because the U.S. Navy is currently waiting for new ships to be built while many of its current ships need to be retired. This temporary weakness in the U.S.’ ability to react to any invasion of Taiwan has previously been called “the decade of concern,” (2020 to 2030). After Davidson’s revelation, that timeframe has been narrowed to the six years between 2021 and 2027, and the new timeframe is being called “the Davidson window.”
In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on October 17 that China has decided to seize Taiwan on a “much faster timeline” than previously thought. Retired admiral Lee Hsi-Min, Taiwan’s former military chief, said China is now on schedule to invade Taiwan by 2027.
Regarding the U.S. Congress’ 2023 budget — that disappointing news for Taiwan comes in the same bill that contains very good news for Ukraine. Kyiv is earmarked to get another $45 billion on top of the $68 billion it had already received this year, although part of that $113 billion total is being spent on humanitarian needs and U.S. troop deployments around Ukraine. Israel will also get its usual $3.8 billion in military grants next year, bringing its total to just over $157 billion in U.S. military grants since 1946.
While countries like Ukraine and Israel do hold significant strategic value for the U.S., it is hard to over-emphasize the incredible strategic value that Taiwan holds for the U.S. military and the U.S. economy.
Taiwan’s location puts it in the middle of Asia’s shipping routes and Asia’s massive economic capabilities. Asia is fast becoming the world’s production leader, and is well on its way to surpass 50% of global GDP. If Beijing could dominate the region, it would be in the perfect position to overshadow the world — and the U.S. If China takes Taiwan, it would leave the Chinese Communist Party as the only superpower in a vast and very productive economic zone.
If Taiwan falls, it would force other nations to bandwagon around China. “If the U.S. won’t fight for a country as important to itself as Taiwan, then who would it fight for?” would be the big question on everyone’s mind. Taiwan is also a central part of the “first island chain” that inhibits China’s military expansion into the Pacific, so a free Taiwan is of great strategic importance to the U.S. Analysts believe that if Taiwan falls, the U.S. will feel it as a series of body blows for decades to come.
Thus, if China takes Taiwan it will be able to enrich itself greatly. Beijing would then start to systematically undermine the U.S. This is just logical power politics: America is the only country that can possibly stand up to China. So China will seek to weaken and by extension impoverish the U.S. to maintain its own dominance. To stay on top, one has to push down all competitors. To do this, Beijing’s new-found power would give it many tools to use against the U.S.
The Taiwan clause in the U.S. Congress’ budget for 2023 was first introduced in August by a bipartisan team headed by the Democrat chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the leading Republican in that committee — Senator James Risch of Idaho. Risch blamed the Biden White House for the fact that Taiwan now has to borrow rather than get its military aid: “The Biden Administration simply has not made Taiwan — or pushing for funding a Taiwan security assistance package — a priority,” Risch told reporters this week. “That is reflected in the disappointing security assistance funding levels in the final funding bill. This is a huge missed opportunity and very concerning.”
Risch might have a point. President Biden seems to be building up a track record of ignoring Taiwan’s defense needs. His failure to take emergency action to fix the production bottleneck that is keeping Taiwan from getting vital U.S. weapons it ordered years ago is a troubling case in point.
Biden needs to declare the obvious reality: Taiwan is of extreme importance to the future of the U.S., and Taiwan is currently at great risk of being overrun by its massive neighbor. Because of that obvious reality, the White House needs to declare an emergency that requires Taiwan to receive asymmetric warfare weapons as soon as possible. Unlike Ukraine, Taiwan is an island, and once an invasion or blockade starts it would be too late to deliver weapons. The White House also needs to pause U.S. weapons delivery to other nations in order to prioritize deliveries to Taiwan — and it needs to make emergency plans to speed up the actual arms production process itself.
If the White House doesn’t take the lead on protecting the U.S.’ future now, future generations will suffer the consequences. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.
Image: Martin Falbisoner
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