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Foreign Policy

Dear Congress: Just Stop It

Jun 06, 2023
  • Zhu Zhongbo

    Director, Department for International and Strategy Studies, China Institute of International Studies

Since being sworn in on Jan. 3, members of the 118th U.S. Congress have engaged in a series of political maneuvers on Taiwan that have provoked 1.4 billion Chinese people, including our compatriots on the island, in malicious defiance of the basic norms of international relations. Those members of Congress have gone to great lengths to stir up discord — undermining Sino-U.S. relations and world peace — to serve their personal interests or the parochial interests of certain interest groups. They will be judged harshly by history. 

Multiple forms of agitation 

The maneuvers fall into three broad categories:

First is the introduction of various Taiwan-related bills. From Jan. 3 to May 22, the U.S. Congress has crafted more than 20 bills, resolutions and resolutions specifically related to Taiwan. If we include bills indirectly related to Taiwan, the number would be even higher. Among these are the Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act, Taiwan Conflict Deterrence Act, Taiwan International Solidarity Act and the STAND with Taiwan Act — all of which are a rehash of previous bills. The thrust of them all is to strengthen exchanges with the Taiwan region across various fields, scale up military sales and assistance, violate the limits of U.S.-Taiwan interaction and challenge UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, all with the aim of hollowing out the one-China principle.

The second category involves visits to Taiwan. From January to May this year, at least 21 members of Congress have secretly or openly visited Taiwan in six waves, exceeding the number of members who visited Taiwan yearly from 2017 to 2021 and more than three times the number of visitors in the same period last year. Among them, 19 were members of the House of Representatives, with two from the Senate. The group included Chairman Mike Gallagher of the awkwardly named House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party; Chairman Michael McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Chairman Ken Calvert of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. If this trend persists, more than 40 members of Congress will visit Taiwan this year, surpassing last year’s 36 and setting a record for the new century.

The third category involves meetings with politicians from Taiwan in the United States. Since 1979, high-ranking politicians from Taiwan have been paying visits to the U.S. on the pretext of transit stops in the country en route to Latin America. During these visits, meetings with members of Congress have been labeled as “highlights.” Nevertheless, Taiwan politicians had not been able to meet with the House speaker until April this year, when Tsai Ing-wen made a transit stop in the United States. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California led a bipartisan group of Congressional dignitaries and lawmakers in a high-profile meeting with Tsai in a blatant provocation in which the one-China principle was undermined.

In addition, the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party has made the Taiwan Strait a priority and advocated “replicating” the Ukraine model, which means stepping up efforts to arm Taiwan. Congress has also held various hearings or staged speculative war games involving a hypothetical attack on Taiwan by Beijing. The latter, especially, has ramped up tensions on the Taiwan question. And there is still a possibility that Speaker McCarthy will visit Taiwan. 

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Benefits of grandstanding 

Members of the U.S. Congress have political and economic interests in mind when it comes to their Taiwan-related actions.

First is to gain favor as they lobby the Taiwan authorities, who have a long history of their own lobbying of Congress and who spend a lot of money every year for this purpose. Since Tsai Ing-wen took office, the lobbying has continued unabated. Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, as of the end of 2022 there were 12 organizations registered in the U.S. to advocate for Taiwan’s interests, including the Gephardt Group, the Nichles Group and Western Hemisphere Strategies. From July 2020 to September 2022, Taiwan authorities paid more than $3.22 million (approximately NT$99 million) in commissions to these organizations. Various organizations have made more than 630 contributions in various forms to the campaigns of U.S. congressional candidates or their related political action committees for the election or re-election of many members of Congress. When members of Congress visit Taiwan, they are treated as guests of honor and greeted with lavish food, drink and hospitality — as well as media exposure in Western society.

It should be noted that the above-mentioned data on Taiwan authorities’ lobbying expenditures in the U.S. is only the tip of the iceberg. The numbers do not include the secret lobbying expenses of Democratic Progressive Party authorities, nor expenditures that Taiwan agents have not timely declared to the U.S.

The second motive is solicitation of the patronage of certain U.S. interest groups. Many members of Congress have a strong military-industrial background. Bills authorizing arms sales to Taiwan are tantamount to soliciting business for U.S. arms dealers and other interest groups. In the case of Senator Marco Rubio, for example, campaign funding sources include Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Raytheon, Boeing and other military-industrial companies. In the 2022 election cycle, the PACs associated with these four companies contributed more than $17,000 to his campaign, and the entire military-industrial sector contributed more than $160,000. It is no coincidence that Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin received more than $100,000 in political contributions from the military-industrial complex in the 2022 election cycle.

The third motive is to accumulate political capital for power struggles with the U.S. executive branch. Provocations by Congress involving Taiwan will help them amass political leverage in the ongoing power struggle with the White House. In the context of domestic political polarization and bipartisan rivalry, in particular, the Republican Party has taken advantage of its dominant position in the House to apply constant pressure on the Democrats and the Biden administration with regard to China, seeking to gain leverage by playing the Taiwan card and taking the wind out of the sails of President Joe Biden’s domestic and foreign policy agenda.

Of the bills in Congress relating directly to Taiwan, Republican lawmakers put forward 19 — the lion’s share. Among the 21 members of Congress who visited Taiwan, 15 are Republicans, also a lopsided advantage over Democrats. 

Unwelcome posturing 

The political grandstanding caters to pro-independence elements in Taiwan and has become a major source of chaos in the region. The grandstanding moves are basically aimed at containing China by playing the so-called Taiwan card and even by “sabotaging” Taiwan. Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton explicitly stated that the U.S. would “blow up” the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company if necessary. Congress has asked the DPP to engage in “all-out mobilization” and “alley warfare” on the island, namely destroying the island without regard to the consequences.

These moves will harm any prospect of improved China-U.S. relations, but they will not hinder the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. They would only end up embroiling the U.S. and its people in a dangerous great power conflict. Members of Congress who are involved will earn the dubious distinction of interfering in China’s internal affairs, damaging the political credibility of the United States and the interests of the American people, while undermining peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation are the right way forward for China and the U.S. This is the way to get along in the new era. Members of Congress should stay on the right path, be forward looking and show political vision. They should contribute to the well-being of the American people and put China-U.S. relations back on the right track.  

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