US 'shows anxiety' in countering China with Taiwan provision listed in defense budget bill
US deterrence strategy will see cost hike but be less effective: experts
Published: Dec 08, 2023 10:41 PM Updated: Dec 08, 2023 10:49 PM
Photo taken on Dec 8, 2022 shows the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, the United States. The US Congress approved a bill on same-sex marriage on Thursday and sent it to the White House. Photo:Xinhua

Photo taken on Dec 8, 2022 shows the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, the United States. The US Congress approved a bill on same-sex marriage on Thursday and sent it to the White House. Photo:Xinhua

Lawmakers from the US Congress have finalized an $874.2 billion fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes parts that require a defense training program for troops on the island of Taiwan and enhanced cybersecurity cooperation.

Chinese experts said on Friday that the US move to seek deeper military ties with Taiwan authorities will not essentially change the disparate military power contrast across the Taiwan Straits, but will only exacerbate tensions. With strength gap between Beijing and Washington narrowing, the cost for the US in seeking a military deterrence against the Chinese mainland on Taiwan island will become greater, while the effect will be increasingly limited.

The $874.2 billion NDAA, which was released late on Wednesday (local time), is expected to pass in House and Senate and signed by US President Joe Biden later in December before taking effect. The legislation also includes provisions to strengthen AUKUS, the security bloc with UK and Australia, in a move regarded as advancing the "Indo-Pacific" strategy and thus "to counter China's influence."

It calls on the Defense Department to "establish a comprehensive training, advising and institutional capacity building program for the military forces of Taiwan."

The bill calls for continuous support for Taiwan in the development of "capable, ready, and modern defense forces," including by supporting acquisition by Taiwan of defense articles and services through military sales, with an emphasis on asymmetric capability.

While calling for the US side to conduct practical training and military exercises with Taiwan authorities, the bill also maintains a provision that encourages exchanges between defense officials and officers of the US and Taiwan authorities "at the strategic, policy, and functional levels," improving the "interoperability" of the military forces and improving the reserve force of the Taiwan authorities.

Additionally, the bill calls for deepened military cybersecurity partnerships between US and Taiwan authorities "to defend military networks, infrastructure and systems against hostile cyber activities."

Compared to NDAA 2023, the bill contains relatively few new elements on "defending Taiwan," as the main points of attention - troop training, military officer exchanges, and cybersecurity cooperation - were not absent in previous editions, Wang Shushen, an expert at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

In the NDAA 2018, there were provisions asking the US to invite Taiwan authorities to participate in joint military exercises and "consider the advisability and feasibility of reestablishing port of call exchanges between the US navy and the Taiwan navy." In the NDAA 2020, cybersecurity cooperation with Taiwan island was listed for the first time.

Both the NDAA 2019 and NDAA 2017 encouraged increased exchanges between senior officers and officials from the US and Taiwan authorities.

The provisions on Taiwan are mostly suggestions from Congress, while how they are implemented at the practical level remains to be decided by the US government and Pentagon, analysts said.

US lawmakers have continued to create new policy tools to provide military assistance to Taiwan, with the intention of influencing White House policy and at the same time strengthening the "deterrence" against the Chinese mainland, said Wang.

The bill signals that the US will not stop expanding its military cooperation with Taiwan in the future and will become more militarily involved in order to enhance the ability of the Taiwan authorities to resist reunification by force if necessary, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times on Friday.

But arming Taiwan is not about assisting in its defense, and essentially the US only wants to reap the benefits and use the island as a pawn to contain the Chinese mainland, Song noted.

"There is a huge gap in military power between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan island… Although the bill will not bring an essential boost to Taiwan's military capability, the mainland will be prepared for the increase in tension in the Taiwan Straits," the expert said.

A view of the Taiwan Straits is seen from Xiamen port, in East China's Fujian Province. Photo: IC

A view of the Taiwan Straits is seen from Xiamen port, in East China's Fujian Province. Photo: IC

Deterrence less effective

According to a report from Taiwan-based media in November, the island authorities will send more than 114 troops to the US in 2024 to undergo training on high-mobility artillery-rocket systems and M1A2T Abrams tanks, as the island is set to receive deliveries of 38 M1A2T Abrams tanks and 11 HIMARS systems.

In August, the Biden administration, for the first time ever, approved $80 million in funds to support the island under the State Department's foreign military financing (FMF) as a part of 2023 NDAA, according to a CNN report. The move was slammed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as one that harms China's sovereignty and security interests and damages peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.

As China's overall strength continues to grow, the US is getting more and more worried that China's reunification will impede the US' strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, Wang said.

US anxiety is the reason behind the military support for the Taiwan authorities and increasing "deterrence" against the Chinese mainland, he noted, "but the credibility and effectiveness of the one-China assurance claimed by the US were undermined."

Like previous editions, the NDAA 2024 made a symbolic reference to the US' one-China policy.

The imbalance between "deterrence" and "assurance" has undoubtedly increased China-US military suspicion and security risks, Wang added.

The US "deterrence" against the Chinese mainland has barely any effect, according to Wang, as the Taiwan question is at the heart of China's core interests, and China's will and determination to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity will not change in the slightest, and it will adopt a strong counter-intervention policy.

As the gap in strength between China and US continues to narrow, the cost of the US strategy and the resources required to strengthen deterrence will become greater, while the effect will become more limited, Wang remarked.

With the island's regional leader election approaching in January 2024, analysts warned the US to keep its promise not to send wrong signals to secessionists, so as to avoid an imbalance in the situation, which is also a test of the US-China relationship.

During the heads of state meeting between China and US in San Francisco, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that the Taiwan question is the most important and sensitive issue in China-US relations. The US side should take real actions to honor its commitment of not supporting "Taiwan independence," stop arming Taiwan, and support China's peaceful reunification.

During a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi stressed China's solemn position on the Taiwan question, urging the US not to interfere in China's internal affairs, and not to support and connive with any forces of "Taiwan independence."