Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on April 6 accused the Biden administration of not adequately following through on the delivery of arms and technology earmarked for bolstering Taiwan’s defenses, which he said poses a danger not just to the self-ruled island, but to U.S. interests in the region.
At a Wednesday House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, McCaul aggressively questioned Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman about what he sees as the lack of follow-through on promises made to Taiwan in the areas of defense and trade.
McCaul described the Indo-Pacific as “a battleground between democracy and tyranny for decades” and a region where the United States has had a presence and helped countries maintain their freedom and economic well-being for more than 120 years, going back before the days of the Spanish-American War.
“The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is undermining this hard-won freedom and prosperity. Chairman Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have formed, as we saw at the Beijing Olympics, this ‘unholy alliance’ of two dictators obsessed with rebuilding their empires. Their recent ‘no limits’ partnership endorsed each other’s territorial aggression,” the lawmaker said.
“Putin has made his move” against Ukraine, McCaul said. “The question is, will Chairman Xi make his?”
Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory, to be taken by force if necessary.
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a disaster for the United States on many levels, weakening alliances, threatening American territory, and allowing the CCP to hold the world hostage by exercising control over the supply of semiconductors, according to McCaul. He noted the heavy concentration of the manufacture and sale of semiconductors in Taiwan.
“Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shown us how critical it is to get our allies the weapons they need before an invasion and not after. The invasion of Ukraine is also a reminder that we have the power to lead our allies in punishing and deterring our enemies,” he added.
But the lawmaker sees that much work is still undone. McCaul said that just prior to the hearing, he had breakfast with Taiwan’s representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim, at which the question of Taiwan’s security and Washington’s role in buttressing that security were topics of discussion. McCaul said that Hsiao raised concerns about why many weapons and defense systems allocated for Taiwan have not yet reached the territory.
During the period from July 2019 to August 2021, McCaul said, he and his colleagues on the House committee signed off on the delivery of a wide range of weapons and technologies to Taiwan including Stinger missiles, torpedoes, aircraft, and field information and communication systems.
All these items would significantly bolster Taiwan’s ability to resist or deter an invasion from mainland China, but the U.S. commitment has fallen short insofar as they have not been delivered to Taiwan. McCaul said that this was Hsiao’s single largest complaint.
“If Chairman Xi’s on the same timetable here, I’m concerned about what could happen,” he added.
An Imbalance of Priorities?
Deputy Secretary of State Sherman went to lengths over the course of the hearing to emphasize the extent of the U.S. commitment to protecting Ukraine from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, including new sanctions unveiled today on Russian banking systems and investments in the country.
“Between the U.S. and its allies and partners, there soon will be 10 anti-tank systems in Ukraine for every Russian tank,” she said.
“We have heard what President Zelenskyy has called for and we are working day and night” to support Ukraine, Sherman said, adding, “If I were him, I would want everything and I would want it yesterday.”
In the case of Taiwan, Sherman made a case that the U.S. commitment has not fallen short. She noted that the United States has sold more than $30 billion worth of arms to Taiwan since 2009, has authorized over $18 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan since 2017, and is currently undertaking a review of the defense trade enterprise between America and Taiwan to figure out where delivery timelines for weapons and technology can be improved.
“We are outlining defense priorities to Taiwan and to the industry to increase transparency and predictability, expediting third-party transfers, reviewing possibilities for arms exports from other countries, pushing for the conclusion of defense agreements related to defense trade, and looking for ways to improve Taiwan’s indigenous defense capability,” Sherman said.
Acknowledging that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen wants everything delivered “as soon as possible,” Sherman described bolstering Taiwan’s own capabilities as a core part of the strategy.
Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We’re Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”