US lawmakers introduce bill to arm Taiwan

The ‘Lend-Lease Act’ mirrors legislation signed by President Biden to supply Ukraine with weapons

A group of Democrats and Republicans have introduced a bill that would authorize the Biden administration to create a new military aid program for Taiwan. Modeled after the 1940s Lend-Lease Act that allowed the US to arm the allied powers during World War II, the bill resembles legislation recently passed to boost weapons supplies to Ukraine.

Introduced by Representatives Michelle Steel (R-California) and Jimmy Panetta (D-California) in the House, and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) in the Senate, the ‘Taiwan Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act’ would authorize the president to lend or lease weapons and military equipment to Taiwan, which Taipei would pay for over a 12-year period.

The bill’s name and wording closely follow that of the ‘Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act’, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in May after passing Congress with almost no resistance.  

“Taiwan is our greatest partner in the Indo-Pacific region, and their continued sovereignty is essential to challenging the New Axis of Evil,” said Blackburn, referencing an often-maligned term used by former President George W. Bush to group America’s foreign enemies together. 

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America’s official position on Taiwan, however, is ambiguous. Since the 1970s, Washington has recognized, but not endorsed, China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, a policy designed to discourage both a Chinese invasion and a formal declaration of independence by Taipei. 

The US does provide military aid to Taiwan, but the passing of this act would lift any limits, as the Ukrainian bill did for aid to Kiev. The original Lend-Lease Act, passed in 1941, allowed the US to provide arms to Britain, France, and the Soviet Union without formally entering the war. Although the Allies were supposed to pay for this aid, the US also accepted the lease of bases for its military instead.

Tensions between the US and China have soared in recent weeks, with Taiwan at the center. Biden stated in May that the US would take military action to prevent a potential Chinese takeover of Taiwan, a statement that broke with decades of strategic ambiguity over the island. While his aides swiftly backtracked, a potential visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – which Pelosi refused to confirm or deny even as she departed the US for Asia on Friday – has further inflamed the situation. 

With Chinese President Xi Jinping warning the US not to “play with fire,” both China and Taiwan held military drills this week. Should Pelosi go through with her visit, she would be the highest-ranking US lawmaker to visit the island since Newt Gingrich, who was also house speaker at the time, traveled to Taipei in 1997.

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