U.S. Lawmakers Visit Taiwan and Vow Support in Face of Chinese Military Drills

U.S. Lawmakers Visit Taiwan and Vow Support in Face of Chinese Military Drills

After China performed two days of military drills intended to punish Taiwan, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas on Monday stood alongside the island nation’s newly elected president, Lai Ching-te, and issued a promise.

“The United States must maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or coercion that would jeopardize the security of the people of Taiwan,” Mr. McCaul, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “That is what we stand for, and that is what we continue to say.”

Mr. McCaul, a Republican, traveled this week to Taipei with a bipartisan delegation of other American lawmakers in an attempt, he said, to show that the U.S. government stood in lock step with Mr. Lai and Taiwan.

The trip, which will last through the week, comes at a fraught time: Just days after Mr. Lai was sworn into office and vowed in his inaugural address to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, China responded by surrounding the self-governing island with naval vessels and military aircraft. Before the lawmakers arrived, the Chinese government had publicly warned them to “seriously abide by the one-China policy” and “not to schedule any congressional visit to Taiwan.”

Just a few days ago, China “conducted two days of military drills in the Taiwan Strait to express their displeasure with President Lai,” Lin Chia-lung, Taiwan’s foreign minister, told Mr. McCaul at a news conference on Monday.

“You can say in this critical time, it is a powerful display,” Mr. Lin added.

Even as many Republicans in Congress balked at providing continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine, support for Taiwan has remained a largely bipartisan endeavor. A number of conservatives have argued that the United States should pull back its investments in Ukraine and instead bolster deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region. In April, the House voted to approve $8 billion for Taiwan in a lopsided 385-to-34 vote.

“Even though there are debates about other theaters of war,” Mr. McCaul said, “I can tell you there is no division or no dissension when it comes to Taiwan in the Congress.”

But deep challenges remain. Even though there are few political hurdles to approving fresh tranches of aid for Taiwan, the backlog of undelivered orders of arms and military equipment to the island from the United States has grown to nearly $20 billion. Some weapons systems that Washington approved for Taiwan in 2020 have yet to be sent.

By far, the biggest part of the undelivered inventory is an order approved by the Trump administration in 2019 for 66 F-16 fighter jets, which makes up over 40 percent of the backlog, according to Eric Gomez, a researcher at the Cato Institute in Washington who, with a co-researcher, has compiled a running estimate of the delays. Other items that Taiwan is waiting for include a Harpoon coastal defense system, mobile rocket launchers called HIMARS and Abrams tanks.

The additional $8 billion of military spending support for Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region approved by Congress would not make a big dent in the backlog, Mr. Gomez said. That amount includes $1.9 billion to enable the Pentagon to release weapons to send to Taiwan from U.S. stockpiles, with the money then used to replenish the American inventory. But the United States “does not have the capability in its stockpile to send” those, Mr. Gomez said.

And there are quietly growing fears among supporters of Taiwan that Western allies, chief among them the United States, will become bogged down in other intractable conflicts — in Ukraine and the Middle East — that will further erode their capacity to send arms.

“People in Taiwan look at what happened in Hong Kong, they look at Afghanistan, they look at Putin,” Mr. McCaul said in an interview. “They’re worried that this is going to be the next shoe to drop, and they should be.”

“I don’t want anyone to think that we can’t support Taiwan because of Ukraine,” he added. “The stuff going to Ukraine is old and it’s old NATO stuff; this is all brand-new for Taiwan. But I just think our defense industrial base is overloaded right now, and it cannot handle this amount of conflict in the world.”

Mr. Lai, in remarks delivered at the Office of the President, alluded to the critical role that the United States had played in assisting the Taiwanese people’s “determination to defend their homeland.” He praised former President Ronald Reagan — a favorite among conservatives, and especially with Speaker Mike Johnson, who frequently quotes him — for his “concept of peace through strength.”

“With your support, I hope that Congress through legislative action will continue to assist Taiwan,” Mr. Lai said.

The aim of the delegation’s visit, Mr. McCaul said, was to show lawmakers’ commitment to do just that. He said he was heartened by how little backlash he and other Republicans had received after Congress moved to pass the enormous aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

“You can see the impact that vote has here,” Mr. McCaul said. “It has real-life consequences; it’s not some political game on the floor. It has real consequences here, it has real consequences in Ukraine.”

The visiting delegation includes Mr. McCaul and Representatives Young Kim, Republican of California; Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina; Jimmy Panetta, Democrat of California; Andy Barr, Republican of Kentucky; and Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

Christopher Buckley contributed reporting.

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