U.S. Congress includes $300 million for Ukraine, addresses China in massive defense bill

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers included efforts to push back against Russia and China in a massive annual defense bill released on Tuesday, proposing $300 million for Ukraine’s military and a statement of support for the defense of Taiwan.

But they omitted a few measures that had had strong support from some members of Congress, including a proposal to impose mandatory sanctions over the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and a proposal to subject women to the military draft.

The fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes $770 billion in military spending, including a 2.7% pay increase for the troops, and authorization for a range of defense programs as well as strategies for dealing with geopolitical threats.

The NDAA normally passes with strong bipartisan support. It is closely watched by a broad swath of industry and other interests because of its wide scope and because it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law every year.

This year’s bill was released shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes.

The 2022 NDAA includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to Ukraine’s armed forces, includes $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and proposes $150 million for Baltic security cooperation.

It does not include a provision that would force Biden to impose sanctions over the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany. The measure’s supporters argue that the pipeline would be harmful to European allies.

Lawmakers also omitted an amendment that would have banned Americans from purchasing Russian sovereign debt.

Biden’s fellow Democrats control both the House of Representatives and Senate, and the White House had said administration officials support sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, but not provisions that could threaten trans-Atlantic ties.

EYES ON CHINA

On China, the bill includes $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan, as well as a ban on the Department of Defense procuring products produced with forced labor from China’s Xinjiang region.

The United States has labeled China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang as genocide, and lawmakers have been pushing a ban on imports of products that may have been made with forced labor from Uyghurs. China dismisses the genocide charge as part of slanderous assertions about conditions in Xinjiang.

The compromise text omits a proposal to subject women to the military draft that was included in earlier versions. The proposal faced stiff opposition from socially conservative lawmakers that threatened to block the entire NDAA.

The compromise bill includes a significant overhaul of the military justice system to take decisions on whether to prosecute cases of rape, sexual assault and some other major crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

The change is the result of a years-long push, led by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in response to the thousands of cases of sexual assault and related crimes among service members every year, many of which are never prosecuted.

To become law for the 61st straight year, the NDAA must pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by Biden.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mark Potter, William Maclean)

 

Washington caps year of drills to deter China with ten-day military exercise

By Tim Kelly

USS CARL VINSON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday completed ten days of joint military drills in Asian waters with Japan and other allies as it ups the ante on deterring China from pursuing its territorial ambitions amid growing tension in the region over Taiwan.

The ANNUALEX drill included 35 warships and dozens of aircraft in the Philippine Sea off Japan’s southern coast. The U.S. and Japanese forces were led by the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson carrier, which was also joined by ships from Canada, Australia, and for the first time, Germany. On Tuesday, the Vinson was being shadowed by a Chinese navy ship.

“We try to deter aggression from some nations that are showing burgeoning strength that maybe we haven’t experienced before,” U.S. Seventh Fleet commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas said at a briefing aboard the carrier.

The exercise was meant to “tell those nations that maybe today is not the day,” he said.

Thomas was accompanied by the commander of the exercise, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Admiral Hideki Yuasa. Home to the biggest concentration of American forces outside the United States, Tokyo is Washington’s key ally in the region.

Increasing pressure by China on Taiwan is causing concern in both Japan and the United States. Japan worries that key sea lanes supplying it will come under Beijing’s sway should it gain control of the island. That move would also threaten U.S. military bases in the region.

China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, says its intentions in the region are peaceful.

The ten-day exercise caps a year of drills between the United States, Japan and other countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

London this year deployed its new $4.15 billion aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, culminating in a visit to Japan in September along with two destroyers, two frigates and a submarine.

To get there, it sailed through the contested South China Sea, of which China claims 90%. Also in September, Britain’s HMS Richmond passed through the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China, prompting a rebuke from Beijing.

Tokyo, in its latest annual defense strategy paper, identifies China as its main national security threat and said it had a “sense of crisis” regarding Taiwan as Chinese military activity around the island intensifies.

The British carrier joined a Japanese carrier, along with the Vinson – which operates F-35 stealth jets – and the USS Ronald Reagan, for a rare four-carrier training exercise in the waters around Japan.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. and allies would ‘take action’ if Taiwan attacked – Blinken

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its allies would take unspecified “action” if China were to use force to alter the status quo over Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Blinken was asked at a forum hosted by the New York Times whether the United States would step in to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China. He repeated regular U.S. statements that Washington’s role is to make sure the island has the means to defend itself, as is required under U.S. law.

“At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that we’re not alone in this determination to make sure that we preserve peace and stability in that part of the world,” Blinken added.

“There are many countries, both in the region and beyond, that would see any unilateral action to use force to disrupt the status quo as a significant threat to peace and security, and they too would take action in the event that that happens.”

Blinken did not say what sort of action he was referring to.

U.S. President Joe Biden caused a stir last month when he said the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.

Those remarks appeared to depart from a long held policy of “strategic ambiguity”, not making clear how the United States would respond. But the White House quickly said Biden was not signaling a change in policy, and some analysts dismissed his comments as a gaffe.

The Democratic chairman of the influential House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, last week urged the Biden administration to be less ambiguous about what he called a U.S. obligation to defend Taiwan from attack by China.

Blinken’s remarks came ahead of a planned virtual meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which a source briefed on the matter told Reuters will be held as soon as next week.

Asked if the meeting would happen next week, Blinken said it was “coming up soon” but was not more specific.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. troops rotating into Taiwan for training -sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Small numbers of U.S. special operations forces have been rotating into Taiwan on a temporary basis to train with Taiwanese forces, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon, which historically has not disclosed details about U.S. training or advising of Taiwan forces, did not specifically comment on or confirm the deployment.

“I don’t have any comments on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would like to highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” said Pentagon spokesman John Supple.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment, saying only that “all military exchanges are carried out in accordance with annual plans”.

Asked on Friday about reports on the U.S. troops, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the United States should cease military ties and arms sales to Taiwan to avoid damaging bilateral relations.

“The U.S. side should fully recognize the great sensitivity of the Taiwan issue,” he told a regular daily briefing.

“China will take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

China sees Taiwan as a wayward province and has not ruled out taking the island by force. Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its democracy and freedom.

The sources declined to say how long the training had been going on but suggested it predated the Biden administration, which came into office in January.

While at least one Asian media outlet has previously reported on such training, any kind of official U.S. confirmation could further aggravate U.S.-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out muscular military exercises near Taiwan. The Wall Street Journal published details on the training, citing unidentified U.S. officials, earlier on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Beijing is aware of this,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, noting a social media post during the Trump administration about training by special operations forces.

“Making this public will compel the Chinese to react, and they will likely do so by stepping up pressure on Taiwan.”

Democratic Representative Ami Bera, who leads the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Asia, was asked at a defense conference if he had been made aware of the deployment.

“Not particularly this deployment, if I call it a deployment. I think we have special operators and others there, and we have in the past that are there training (Taiwan’s) military, working with them,” Bera said.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the same event he had not been made specifically aware and had only seen public reports, but added: “Actually I would be happier if that number was in the hundreds.”

The United States is Taiwan’s largest supplier of weaponry and has long offered some degree of training on weapons systems, as well as detailed advice on ways to strengthen its military to guard against an invasion by China’s Peoples Liberation Army.

Chinese military aircraft have repeatedly flown in recent days through Taiwan’s expansive air defense identification zone, which extends well outside Taiwan’s airspace.

But China has avoided Taiwanese airspace, no shots have been fired and there have been no known close calls between Chinese and Taiwanese aircraft.

The Taiwanese government has denounced China’s military exercises and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, insisting that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Dan Grebler and Kim Coghill)

U.S. envoy Sullivan to meet China’s top diplomat Yang amid Taiwan tensions

BEIJING (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser will hold talks with China’s top diplomat in Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday, the South China Morning Post said, at a time of rising tension over several issues including Taiwan.

“They aim to rebuild communication channels and implement consensus reached between presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden,” the newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing an official familiar with the arrangements for the meeting between Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi.

Both the White House and the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Ties between China and the United States deteriorated sharply under former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration has maintained pressure on China on a range of issues from Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region to the origins of COVID-19.

China has also been angered by increased U.S. support for Taiwan, believing the United States is colluding with forces there seeking the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.

“We have been clear privately and publicly about our concern about the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) pressure and coercion toward Taiwan, and we will continue to watch the situation very closely,” she said.

Trade tensions are also at the top of the U.S.-China agenda, with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai traveling to Paris Monday to participate in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development meetings later this week.

On Monday, the USTR unveiled the results of a months-long “top-to-bottom” review of China trade policy, pledging to hold “frank” talks with Beijing about its failure to keep promises made in Trump’s trade deal and end harmful industrial policies.

The Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a commentary China was willing to build mutually beneficial trade with the United States but would not make concessions on principle and was not afraid of a drawn-out contest.

“The China-U.S. trade war has lasted for more than three-and-a-half years. Instead of being weakened, China’s economy has taken a step forward in comparison with the scale of the U.S.,” it said.

The meetings this week will be yet another round of in-person talks between officials from the two powers since Biden took office, with little in the way of concrete progress in the earlier sessions.

In late July, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat, held face-to-face meetings with Xie Feng, a Chinese vice foreign minister, in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.

No specific outcomes were agreed and the prospect of a meeting between Biden and Xi was not discussed, senior U.S. administration officials said at the time.

In March, during high-level talks in Alaska, Chinese officials including Yang Jiechi railed against the state of U.S. democracy, while U.S. officials accused the Chinese delegation of grandstanding.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel, Heather Timmons and Steve Orlofsky)

Taiwan plans $9 billion boost in arms spending, warns of ‘severe threat’

By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan proposed on Thursday extra defense spending of T$240 billion ($8.69 billion) over the next five years, including on new missiles, as it warned of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from giant neighbor China.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernizing the armed forces – well-armed but dwarfed by China’s – and increasing defense spending a priority, especially as Beijing ramps up military and diplomatic pressure against the island it claims as “sacred” Chinese territory.

The new money, which comes on top of planned military spending of T$471.7 billion for 2022, will need to be approved by parliament where Tsai’s ruling party has a large majority, meaning its passage should be smooth.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said China’s military strength had grown rapidly and it had continued to invest heavily in defense.

“In the face of severe threats from the enemy, the nation’s military is actively engaged in military building and preparation work, and it is urgent to obtain mature and rapid mass production weapons and equipment in a short period of time,” it said in a statement.

Deputy Defense Minister Wang Shin-lung told reporters the new arms would all be made domestically, as Taiwan boosts its own production prowess, though the United States will probably remain an important provider of parts and technology.

Taiwan has been keen to demonstrate that it can defend itself, especially amid questions about whether the United States would come to its aid if China attacked.

“Only if we ensure our security and show determination will the international community think well of us,” said Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng. “Others will only help us if we help ourselves.”

The additional cash will likely be well received in Washington, which has been pushing Taiwan to modernize its military to make it more mobile so it can become a “porcupine,” hard for China to attack.

Ingrid Larson, one of Washington’s unofficial representatives for Taiwan, stressed there was “a real and urgent need” for Taiwan to pursue defense reforms.

“As allies and partners in the region and around the globe increasingly push back on China’s aggressive action, it is important that Taiwan remain committed to the changes that only it can make for itself,” she told the Center for a New American Security think tank.

“Taiwan must build as strong a deterrent as possible and as quickly as possible. Taiwan needs truly asymmetric capability, and a strong reserve force. Asymmetry means systems which are mobile, survivable and lethal.”

Larson is managing director of the Washington office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which handles U.S. relations with Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic links.

The weapons Taiwan aims to buy with the money include cruise missiles and warships, the defense ministry said.

Taiwan has been testing new, long-range missiles off its southern and eastern coasts, and while it has not given details, diplomats and experts have said they are likely to be able to hit targets far into China.

Taiwan has already put into service a new class of stealth warship, which it calls an “aircraft carrier killer” due to its missile complement, and is developing its own submarines.

The announcement comes as Taiwan is in the middle of its annual Han Kuang military drills.

On Thursday, its army simulated fending off an invasion, firing artillery out to sea from a beach on its southern coast.

($1 = 27.6330 Taiwan dollars)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Roger Tung and Jeanny Kao and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Sam Holmes and Jonathan Oatis)

China holds assault drills near Taiwan after ‘provocations’

By Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) -China carried out assault drills near Taiwan on Tuesday, with warships and fighter jets exercising off the southwest and southeast of the island in what the country’s armed forces said was a response to “external interference” and “provocations”.

Taiwan, which Beijing claims as Chinese territory, has complained of repeated People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drills in its vicinity in the past two years or so, part of a pressure campaign to force the island to accept China’s sovereignty.

In a brief statement, the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command said warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets had been dispatched close to Taiwan to carry out “joint fire assault and other drills using actual troops”.

It did not give details.

A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters that China’s air force had carried out a “capturing air supremacy” drill, using their advanced J-16 fighters.

“In addition to seeking air supremacy over Taiwan, they have also been conducting frequent electronic reconnaissance and electronic interference operations,” the person said.

Taiwan believes China is trying to gather electronic signals from U.S. and Japanese aircraft so that they can “paralyze reinforcing aircraft including F-35s in a war,” the source said, referring to the U.S.-operated stealth fighter.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 11 Chinese aircraft entered its air defense zone, including two nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and six J-16 fighters, and that it had scrambled jets to warn China’s planes away.

While the Chinese statement gave no exact location for the drills, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the aircraft flew in an area between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top part of the South China Sea.

Some of the aircraft also briefly entered the strategic Bashi Channel off southern Taiwan that leads to the Pacific, according to a map provided by the ministry.

“The nation’s military has a full grasp and has made a full assessment of the situation in the Taiwan Strait region, as well as related developments at sea and in the air, and is prepared for various responses,” it added.

The PLA statement noted that recently, the United States and Taiwan have “repeatedly colluded in provocation and sent serious wrong signals, severely infringing upon China’s sovereignty, and severely undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

“This exercise is a necessary action based on the current security situation across the Taiwan Strait and the need to safeguard national sovereignty. It is a solemn response to external interference and provocations by Taiwan independence forces.”

It was not immediately clear what set off the flurry of Chinese military activity, though earlier this month, the United States approved a new arms sale package to Taiwan, an artillery system valued at up to $750 million.

China believes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is a separatist bent on a formal declaration of independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai said Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.

Washington has expressed its concern about China’s pattern of intimidation in the region, including towards Taiwan, reiterating that U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid.”

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bernadette Baum)

U.S. Senate passes bill to help Taiwan regain WHO status

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a bill late on Thursday calling on the State Department to submit a plan to help Taiwan regain its observer status at the World Health Organization, one of several U.S. bids to boost Taiwan as it faces pressure from Beijing.

Taiwan is excluded from most global organizations such as the WHO, the U.N. health agency, because of the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces and not a separate country.

The legislation, passed by unanimous consent, was sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The two are also co-chairmen of the Senate Taiwan Caucus.

“The U.S. must continue to stand by Taiwan, and do more to reaffirm our support for our ally’s international engagement,” Menendez said in a statement on Friday.

The measure directs the Secretary of State to establish a strategy for obtaining observer status at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar bill earlier this year, but there has been no word on when the measure might come up for a vote in the full House.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Low probability of China trying to seize Taiwan in near term -top U.S. general

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The top U.S. general said on Thursday there was a low probability that China would try to take over Taiwan militarily in the near-term as Beijing has some way to go to develop the capabilities needed.

While there has been increasing concern in Taiwan and among some U.S. lawmakers about Chinese military activity near the island, like flying jets in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), U.S. military officials have told Reuters that such moves are not overly concerning.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers that while Taiwan was still a core national interest of China, “There’s little intent right now, or motivation, to do it militarily.”

“There’s no reason to do it militarily, and they know that. So, I think the probability is probably low, in the immediate, near-term future,” Milley said during a Congressional hearing.

“My assessment in terms of capability, I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan, if they wanted to do that,” he added.

The United States is Taiwan’s strongest international backer and main source of arms, which angers China.

Beijing says the democratically ruled island is part of “one China” and routinely denounces foreign involvement as an interference in its internal affairs.

Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives will introduce legislation this week seeking to boost U.S. support for Taiwan, part of an effort in Congress to take a hard line in dealings with China.

NATO leaders, encouraged by U.S. President Joe Biden, warned at a summit on Monday that China presents “systemic challenges,” taking a more forceful stance towards Beijing.

Earlier this week, twenty-eight Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, the largest reported incursion to date.

Like most countries, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Taiwan reports largest incursion yet by Chinese air force

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Twenty-eight Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday, the island’s government said, the largest reported incursion to date.

While there was no immediate comment from Beijing, the news comes after the Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement on Sunday scolding China for a series of issues and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, comments China condemned as “slander.”

Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island, concentrated in the southwestern part of its air defense zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.

The latest Chinese mission involved 14 J-16 and six J-11 fighters, as well as four H-6 bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, and anti-submarine, electronic warfare and early warning aircraft, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

It was the largest daily incursion since the ministry began regularly reporting Chinese Air Force activities in Taiwan’s ADIZ last year, breaking the previous record of 25 aircraft reported on April 12.

The ministry added that Taiwanese combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were also deployed to monitor them.

Not only did the Chinese aircraft fly in an area close to the Pratas Islands, but the bombers and some of the fighters flew around the southern part of Taiwan close to the bottom tip of the island, according to a map the ministry provided.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

China has in the past described such missions as necessary to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.

The United States, which like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has watched with alarm the stepped up tensions with Beijing.

China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive territorial issue and a red line the United States should not cross. It has never renounced the possible use of force to ensure eventual unification.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)