Former US President Donald Trump had tied his successor’s hands before leaving office. And now, Biden finds that his hands have been forced in all key regions including the Indo-Pacific and the island nation of Taiwan.
As per the latest reports, the Biden administration is set to approve its first arms sales to Taipei. The agreement between both countries is likely to include 40 M109A6 “Paladin” self-propelled howitzers and related equipment. So, why is Biden supplying arms to the island nation, despite all his love for Beijing and indifference towards Taiwan? Well, we may have to search for the answer in a Trump-era legislation.
Former US President Trump was, of course, one of the most pro-Taiwan Presidents in a long time. In line with his policy to corner China, Trump also supplied arms worth several millions of dollars to the island nation. And to go a step further, the Trump administration ensured that even future administrations could not abandon Taiwan.
Right towards the end of his Presidency, Trump signed the US$2.3 trillion government spending package. The package signed by Trump also incorporated the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020.
The Taiwan Assurance Act, 2020 is a legislation that seeks to improve defence ties between the US and Taiwan. As such, the legislation builds on the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.
The 1979 Act states, “The United States shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character and shall maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan.”
Building on the 1979 Act, the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020 states, “The US should conduct regular sales and transfers of defense articles to Taiwan in order to enhance its self-defense capabilities, particularly its efforts to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities, including undersea warfare and air defense capabilities, into its military forces.”
The 2020 Act, therefore, recognised Taiwan’s policy to develop asymmetric warfare capabilities and also made it incumbent upon the US government to support it. In its 2020 report to the Congress on military and security developments involving China, the US Department of Defence (DoD) had revealed that Taiwan is developing new capabilities and concepts to counter the growing capabilities of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Taiwan’s modified defence strategy is described as a reaction to the growing disparity between Chinese and Taiwanese military firepower. Decades of Chinese military modernisation efforts have eroded Taipei’s inherent military advantages, and therefore it has started developing asymmetric warfare capabilities.
The Pentagon listed some of Taiwan’s asymmetric initiatives. It stated, “Some specific areas of emphasis include offensive and defensive information and EW [electronic warfare], high-speed stealth vessels, shore-based mobile missiles, rapid mining and minesweeping, unmanned aerial systems, and critical infrastructure protection.”
The Taiwan Relations Act ensures the supply of conventional US arms to Taiwan. But the Taiwan Assurance Act goes a step further and ensures the supply of the latest weapon systems to the island nation which will boost its asymmetric warfare capabilities.
No matter how much Biden hates it, Trump did ensure that the 78-year old Democrat is obligated with a legislation to supply the latest arms to Taiwan. And even apart from domestic compulsions, Biden faces immense diplomatic pressure. Japan, for example, has been constantly forcing the Biden administration to support Taipei and warn China about the consequences of its belligerence against the island nation.
Biden would have now found that his Presidency is full of landmines set up by his predecessor, Donald Trump and the one regarding arms supply to Taipei is about to explode.