The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations unanimously passed the TAIPEI Act on Sept. 25, moving forward a bill that would bolster Taiwan’s ability to fend off China’s diplomatic bullying.
The bill, short for the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act ( S.1678), would require the U.S. government to engage with countries around the world to support Taiwan’s diplomatic recognition and strengthen unofficial ties with the island.
It will also allow the U.S. secretary of state to modify the United States’ diplomatic relations with, and foreign assistance to, countries that alter or downgrade official or unofficial ties with Taiwan.
The draft legislation also calls for the U.S. administration to negotiate a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
The passing of the U.S. bill comes at a critical time for Taiwan—the island lost two allies, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, to Beijing earlier this month.
Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province that should be united with the mainland, with military force if necessary, even as the island is a de facto independent country with its own military and democratically elected officials.
The Chinese regime has thus taken different tactics to diminish Taiwan’s legitimacy as a state. In recent years, it has lured away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies with Chinese investment and loans—what critics called “dollar diplomacy.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.), who co-authored the bill, said the bipartisan support will “send a strong message to nations that there will be consequences for supporting Chinese actions that undermine Taiwan,” according to a statement from his office.
“The United States should use every tool to support Taiwan’s standing on the international stage,” he said. The bill will be sent to the Senate floor; the House of Representatives will also need to approve the bill before it can be signed into law by the president.
Taiwan has lost seven allies since 2016: El Salvador, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Panama, São Tomé and Príncipe, the Solomon Islands, and Kiribati.
Joanne Ou, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, at a daily press conference on Sept. 26, expressed gratitude to the Senate panel for passing the bill, according to Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency (CNA).
Ou added that Beijing is trying to force Taiwan to accept the “one country, two systems” model, by luring away the Solomon Islands and Kiribati. She said that Taiwanese have been “strongly appalled” by Beijing’s diplomatic pressure.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has proposed that Taiwan be united with the mainland under the same framework currently used in Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Ou said that Taiwan will continue to work with the United States to safeguard the island’s democratic system and fight for its greater presence internationally.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, while speaking to the press on Sept. 26, warned that Beijing may try more repressive moves against Taiwan in an attempt to meddle in upcoming elections. She said she has told Taiwanese government officials in the diplomatic sector to do all they can to secure Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
Taiwan will hold its 15th presidential election on Jan. 11, 2020. Tsai—a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally advocates for the island to formally declare independence from the mainland—is running for reelection.
On the same day, all 113 seats of the island’s parliament (known as the Legislative Yuan) will be up for election.
According to CNA, Taiwan’s National Security Council (NSC) warned on Sept. 23 that the island could lose one or two more allies before the end of the year.
Pressuring nations to sever ties with Taiwan places economic and diplomatic pressure on the DPP; Beijing is effectively swaying public opinion against DPP candidates and in favor of the Kuomintang (KMT), which has a pro-Beijing platform.
The NSC also warned that Beijing is likely to place more pressure on Taiwan by limiting Chinese investment in Taiwan; cutting the number of airline flights between them; and halting cross-strait currency settlement, according to CNA. If Taiwanese aren’t allowed to convert their currency to Chinese yuan, that would likely affect Taiwanese with businesses in China, and those who make investments in Chinese companies.
Those measures were designed to turn around the current presidential campaign, as Tsai leads in opinion polls over KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu, NSC said.
There has been speculation that Taiwan’s remaining allies in the Pacific—the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Republic of Nauru, and Tuvalu—could switch recognition to Beijing. The Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Republic of Nauru have all recently voiced their diplomatic support for Taiwan.