by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook
THE US DENIED earlier this month that weapons shipments to Taiwan are delayed because of the war in Ukraine.
Specifically, Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks stated that US weapons shipments to Taiwan are not delayed because of the conflict in Ukraine, suggesting that weapons shipments to Ukraine are from the US’ existing stockpiles. By contrast, weapons shipments to Taiwan would come from new arms.
Hicks’ comments took place shortly after 428 million USD worth of spare parts were approved for sale to Taiwan. This was for use for air defenses and military aircraft. More recently, the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act authorized 12 billion USD in loans for Taiwan to purchase arms across six years, between 2023 and 2027, with 2 billion USD per year. Earlier this week, China conducted military exercises around Taiwan in response to the bill being signed into law by Biden.
Nevertheless, Hicks’ comments more broadly take place at a time in which Trumpist Republicans have suggested that the US should cut aid to Ukraine because US domestic interests should come first. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to seek Speaker of the House, has suggested that the US should perhaps reconsider the aid it is providing to Ukraine. Views from American politicians in some quarters that Ukraine should be pushed to the negotiating table with Russia, and that the US providing Ukraine with a blank check for weapons acquisitions is causing the war to continue unnecessarily.
This has particularly been the case after a recent visit to the US by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. MAGA Republicans, ranging from House of Representative members Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert to Donald Trump Jr. have attacked comments made by Zelensky before Congress. Some of these politicians refused to stand for Zelensky, criticizing Zelensky as a “welfare queen” that simply leeched off of blank checks from the US. Otherwise, one has seen ethnic slurs against Zelensky, alleging links between Zelensky and Eastern European organized crime or Nazis.
The Tsai administration has sought to reassure of stable ties with the US, as well as that scheduled arms deliveries may have seen delays, but are continuing apace. At the same time, the US has also sought to pressure Taiwan with regard to its acquisitions as of late, taking the view that Taiwan focuses too much on purchases of equipment for symmetric warfare purposes when it should instead focus on improving asymmetric warfare capacities, such as Ukraine used to great success in fighting off Russia, as a small country that was able to deter a much larger enemy. Tsai suggested in her recent speech about the extension of the military draft, however, that Taiwan may place greater focus on asymmetric means of warfare going forward.
But, either way, domestically in Taiwan, the US response to the invasion of Ukraine has been seen as setting the template for how America might respond to a potential invasion of Taiwan. For example, there is much discussion of how the US might not take direct involvement in such a conflict, but only seek to arm Taiwan, for fear of getting drawn into conflict with China.
The overt indecision of the US about whether to provide some arms, such as transferring fighter jets to Ukraine, may add to such doubts. Part of the issue at hand there was whether to provide Ukraine with fighter jets originally slated for Taiwan.
However, it is generally of note that arms deals between Taiwan and the US have become an increasingly politicized issue in Taiwan. The pan-Blue camp in particular has sometimes sought to sow doubt about them, suggesting that the US is simply foisting unnecessary arms onto Taiwan in order to economically profit, or that the US’ true interests are elsewhere. The pan-Blue camp is hoping to leverage on views of the US as an untrustworthy ally to win elections, aiming to convince the public that it is the only party in Taiwan able to communicate with the CCP, and maintain stable cross-strait relations.
One sees the pan-Blue camp similarly trying to sow doubt about the US commitment to Taiwan with regard to claims that the US is seeking to rob Taiwan of its semiconductor talent with plants conducted in Arizona–and that the DPP is acquiescing to this willingly. Delays in the delivery of arms to Taiwan, as well as the reactions of Trumpist Republicans, are likely to further this narrative, particularly as warnings of invasion from high-ranking US military officials have become increasingly dire.