Only days after adopting a proposed $886 billion Fiscal Year 2024 defense budget focused on countering China’s growing military threat in the Western Pacific, key House Armed Services Committee members are returning to the United States after completing three days of unannounced conferencing with officials in Guam, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) led the bipartisan delegation of nine Congressional lawmakers, which visited Guam for several hours on June 27 before touring Taiwan June 27–28 and spending June 29 conferring with Philippines counterparts.
Rogers’ visit—the first by a sitting chair of the House Armed Services Committee to Taiwan since 1979, according to the American Institute of Taiwan—is particularly noteworthy because it comes amid calls in Congress, especially from the Senate, to boost funding for Taiwan defense either in the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (FY24 NDAA), the annual defense budget, or in a supplementary defense package to be introduced later this summer or fall.
Capt. George Norman, the commanding officer of the blue crew of the guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726), addresses his command as the gold crew pulls the ship into Apra Harbor, Guam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price)
The House and Senate armed services committees last week adopted their versions of the proposed FY24 NDAA, setting the stage for floor adoptions, a summer of intra-chamber conferencing, and hopeful adoption by late September before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Defending Taiwan and countering what the Pentagon defines as the “pacing challenge” presented by the Chinese regime in the Western Pacific are key components of both chambers’ draft defense budgets.
Common NDAA emphases include a $9.1 billion Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a $500 million account for Taiwan to purchase American-made weapons and munitions, $108 million for “defense articles and services to Taiwan, including military training,” and regional force realignments geared for air-naval conflict while bolstering Guam, the U.S. territory island 3,000 miles east of China.
Rogers’ visit also comes as the Biden administration and Chinese diplomats are soft-talking about the need to stabilize the U.S.-China relationship that soured after the February Chinese surveillance balloon incident.
The nations are each other’s largest trading partners in addition to being their most challenging strategic competitors, underscoring the complexities of the strained relationship.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing in June vowing to sustain “better engagement going forward,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plans to visit China in July, and new Chinese Ambassador to the United States Xie Feng—appointed in May—has resumed routine communications directly with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
During its June 27 stop on Guam, the delegation, which included territorial Del. James Moylan (R-Guam), met with Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero. While in Taiwan June 27–28, it met with President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
In her welcoming remarks, Ing-wen thanked the delegation for “demonstrating your support for Taiwan–U.S. relations.”
She later tweeted “a warm welcome to @RepMikeRogersAL. We are grateful for the #US Congress’ longstanding and bipartisan support for #Taiwan, & will continue to work with the United States to uphold peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Taiwanese media covering the visit—Rogers and fellow delegation members have not issued public statements about the tour—noted the Alabama conservative is a member of “the Congressional Taiwan Caucus,” as is the panel’s ranking member, or lead Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who also made the trip.
Although Rogers’ delegation is the third such visit by a Congressional group in 2023, the fact that the chair of the committee that funds the Pentagon was conferring with Taiwanese officials in Taipei was noted and rebuked in China.
During a June 28 Beijing press conference, China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian warned that increased involvement with the U.S. military won’t end well for Taiwan’s “secessionist forces.”
The United States always prioritizes its own interests, and Taiwan will not be an exception, she said according to a June 29 China Daily article posted on Chinamil.com, one of several CCP-sanctioned military websites.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains that Taiwan is part of its territory, despite the regime having never ruled over the island. The CCP vows it will reclaim the island, by force if necessary, and is openly practicing invasion maneuvers in the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea.
That same day, June 28, as the Rogers delegation was meeting with Ing-wen and Wu, Taiwan defense officials reported 11 Chinese fighter jets and four Chinese warships violated the island’s 24-mile “nautical line” that it claims as its territory.