On June 15, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a public hearing entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Ties.” The text below provides a summary of the testimonies by Rupert Hammond-Chambers and Dan Blumenthal.
In a June 15th hearing of the United States House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening US-Taiwan Ties,” lawmakers from both sides of the aisle demonstrated that, in contrast with the partisanship on display in much of current American politics, defending Taiwan’s flourishing democracy remains a deeply bipartisan cause. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chair of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee, typified the sentiments of members in stating that “it is more important than ever to reassure Taiwan of the US’s commitment to the relationship.” Subcommittee members heard testimony from Global Taiwan Institute Executive Director Russell Hsiao (see editor’s column, this issue), along with Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute and Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the US-Taiwan Business Council, on a range of issues, with a particular focus on securing Taiwan’s future in the face of an “an increasingly aggressive and hegemonic PRC” by strengthening ties in both security and trade, and US assistance to Taiwan as the island seeks a voice on the international stage.
Members and witnesses alike were virtually unanimous in calling attention to arms sales as an area of concern, a reflection of Congress’s more forward-leaning stance on the issue in recent years, in comparison with the executive branch. Mr. Hammond-Chambers went so far as to characterize the shift from regular to bloc sales as “a material US commitment in free fall,” although he, the subcommittee members and Mr. Blumenthal all recognized that the slowdown was, to some extent, a reflection of Taiwanese concerns around the potential financial impact of buying high-end weapons platforms, with Mr. Blumenthal adding the significant caveat that, while “Taiwan does not always demonstrate an adequate urgency about the threats it faces, [the US doesn’t] always provide them with the opportunity to do so.”
With the overall political environment in both the United States and Taiwan now moving in a direction potentially more favorable to further arms sales, ranking subcommittee member Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked for the witnesses’ views on Taiwan’s most pressing needs, were a sale of arms platforms to occur, including their view on the utility of including the F-35 in any arms package. Mr. Hsiao emphasized that Taiwan’s own defense establishment has determined that “they have a need for the F-35s based on exercises they have conducted on an annual basis in order to execute the missions that they assess as necessary in order to deter the People’s Liberation Army,” while Mr. Blumenthal contrasted the expense of the F-35 with the need for Taiwan to acquire weapons systems that are “survivable, dispersible, [and] mobile,” suggesting that UAVs, UCAVs, and diesel submarines could be fruitful areas for future Taiwanese military investment. Mr. Hammond-Chambers likewise emphasized in his written and oral testimony the desirability of the Trump administration inviting Taiwan to participate in the F-35 program, both from a strategic and a trade standpoint.
Taiwan’s security concerns are closely tied with the PRC’s ongoing push to deny the island nation a voice and recognition in international fora. The hearing was held two days after Panama’s derecognition of Taiwan, and lawmakers were eager to hear what the United States could do to blunt the effectiveness of the PRC’s campaign, and win Taiwan representation in international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho (R-FL) highlighted the impact of Taiwan’s participation on the international public health community’s efforts to combat disease by pointing to the role of Taiwanese researchers in combating the 2003 SARS epidemic. When asked by the chairman what the US could do, Mr. Hsiao pointed out that a tool for promoting Taiwan’s international representation already existed: the Global Cooperation and Training Framework, a cooperative mechanism established between the US and Taiwan in June 2015 with the aim of strengthening joint US-Taiwan outreach to third countries across a number of sectors, particularly public health, environmental protection, and regional development. Mr. Blumenthal, in an exchange with the ranking member, made the point that Taiwan’s accession to the WTO was negotiated in such a way that it could serve as a model for Taiwanese entry into a number of international organizations that do not include statehood as a precondition for membership. When asked by Rep. Sherman “why does China work so hard in their effort to … keep Taiwan out of organizations, membership in which does not establish sovereignty?” Mr. Blumenthal’s reply was direct: “Because they [the PRC] get very little pushback.”
The hearing followed immediately after the subcommittee’s markup of H.R. 535, the Taiwan Travel Act, a House resolution expressing “the sense of Congress that the United States Government should encourage visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels”, and both subcommittee members and witnesses noted the important role that facilitating travel by high-level Taiwanese officials to the United States, up to and including the Taiwanese president, could play in strengthening ties between the two countries and boosting Taiwan’s international profile, both at the symbolic level, and in the very practical way it would allow for more substantive government-to-government interactions. To this end, Mr. Hammond-Chambers also suggested that Congress might encourage the executive branch to separate those functionalities wherein one individual’s duties encompass both the PRC and Taiwan, with the idea that doing so would allow for a more robust representation of Taiwan within executive branch decisionmaking processes.
The hearing also touched, albeit in somewhat less depth, on issues of trade and tourism. Although several witnesses and members mooted the idea of a US-Taiwan free trade agreement, there was less consensus on this than in other areas, with Rep. Sherman expressing on several occasions his preference that any such agreement contain provisions to reduce the US’s trade deficit with Taiwan, a deficit which Rep. Yoho noted in his closing remarks had been cut in half as a percentage in recent years. In response to a question from Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), whose district includes Las Vegas, asking how the United States might encourage more inbound tourism from Taiwan, Mr. Hammond-Chambers suggested that increased advertising on the island could boost the visibility of locales such as Las Vegas as desirable tourism destinations.