Wicker to Biden: Address China Threat, Protect American Interests in Taiwan

Armed Services Leader Makes Case For Defending Taiwan on Senate Floor

February 9, 2023

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, today took to the Senate floor to discuss the increasing threat to American interests posed by the Chinese Communist Party and to urge the Biden Administration to accelerate military aid to Taiwan, a key U.S. ally.

Wicker, who has been a vocal supporter of increased U.S. attention to Taiwan, explained that the future existence of the island democracy is vital to American prosperity and security. Without Taiwan, Wicker argues, the U.S. economy could crumble and our ability to defend the U.S. homeland would be put at risk.

“A failure to defend Taiwan would upend that stability, and our allies and partners could abandon America,” Wicker said. “Simply put, peace in the Pacific means jobs for Americans. War in the Pacific, meanwhile, would put American economic freedom at risk.”

Citing recent comments made by senior flag officers as well as the recent incursion of a Chinese spy balloon in sovereign U.S. airspace, Senator Wicker urged the Biden Administration to move at “the speed of relevance” to counter Chinese military modernization and give Taiwan what it needs to defend itself. Providing for Taiwan’s defense, Wicker said, would also include an unshakable focus on improving the capabilities of the U.S. military – specifically those in the Navy and Air Force.

“There is simply no time to waste,” Wicker said. “We need to get high-quality weapons into Taiwanese hands now, before conflict breaks out.” 

Read the full speech below, or watch here. Read more about Senator Wicker’s recent work on defense issues here.

Mr. President:

Seven centuries ago, a Chinese novelist wrote, “The Empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide; thus, it has ever been.” These are the opening words from the Chinese classic novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Xi Jinping have drawn inspirations and quoted passages from this classic because the enduring prominence in the Chinese imagination can be traced back for centuries. They describe the long rhythm of Chinese history: a period of civil war and chaos followed by a period of stability. And, now, after a century of perceived humiliation, the Chinese Communist Party believes it is destined to be whole and powerful again.

That’s what makes China’s current ambition to “unify” – as they put it – even more troubling. Just as Vladimir Putin seeks to use violence to reconstitute what he considers the old Soviet empire, the Chinese Communist Party has made it its mission to “reunite” all those that it considers Chinese – including those who have gained freedom and liberty, like the people of Taiwan. The Taiwanese people want no part of Beijing’s communist vision and they fully reject the idea that Beijing should impose its will on its neighbors.

Some may think Beijing has been hiding and biding its time, but in fact, it has for decades been active and aggressive in expanding its claims of sovereignty and territory. In the last 60 years, China almost risked a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union, fought a war with Vietnam, and engaged in multiple bloody skirmishes with India as recently as last month to assert their territorial claim. Today it continues to make egregious territorial claims in the South and East China Sea – all in the name of expanding the reach of the Chinese Communist Party. Americans saw firsthand President Xi’s disregard for our own sovereignty over the past week, as a Chinese spy balloon violated U.S. airspace uncontested for several days – just the latest in Beijing’s string of provocative actions.

To see his plans for Taiwan, look no further than Xi Jinping’s brutal repression of the people of Hong Kong. He continues to trample the freedoms they long enjoyed, and indeed were promised by the Chinese Communist Party. We should have always known that the idea of “one country, two systems” was always incompatible with the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

Taiwan is the missing piece in President Xi’s puzzle. Without Taiwan, Xi Jinping – who wants to be remembered as one of the great emperors of Chinese history – will have failed. And make no mistake, Mr. President, he cannot accept a free Taiwan, because Taiwan – situated 90 miles off the Chinese coast – is living proof that freedom and democracy can thrive in a Chinese-speaking nation. Taiwan is a powerful advertisement for liberty to the 1.4 billion people who suffer under the communist police state.  

For this reason, more than any other, Xi Jinping wants what he views as the “Taiwan problem” resolved on his terms. He and his comrades have spent the last several decades pursuing the fastest military buildup in history – achieving the world’s largest navy by sheer number of vessels and by far the largest fleet of advanced ballistic missiles. The Chinese Air Force now flies fifth-generation aircraft armed with air-to-air missiles that outrange our own. The entire People’s Liberation Army conducts advanced and realistic training. And our own top cyber officer, General Paul Nakasone, says the improvement in Chinese cyber capabilities is “unlike anything [he has] ever seen.”

All of the PLA’s capabilities are aimed across the Taiwan Strait. Just last week, someone leaked a private memo from General Mike Minihan, our air mobility chief, in which he urged troops to be ready for war in 2025. This is 2023, he urged them to be ready for war in 2025. And despite all the hand-wringing, this is just the latest example of senior civilian and military officials who are increasingly worried about Chinese aggression over the next four years, during Xi Jinping’s third term. Even Secretary of State Blinken last year said that Beijing remains “determined to pursue unification on a much faster timeline” than previously expected. There should be no doubt that the potential for Chinese invasion of Taiwan is higher today than it has ever been. 

This raises the fair question of whether protecting Taiwan is feasible. Can the small island nation of 23 million souls really stand a chance against a nation of 1.4 billion?

The answer is that Taiwan not only can stand a chance, it must be able to defend itself successfully. Because what is at stake in Taiwan is not just its own freedom and sovereignty, but the stability of the region, the stability of the world economy, and our own American economic and national security.

Standing tall against a powerful aggressor is no small task. We have seen this in Ukraine. Over the past year, we have seen the sacrifices of courageous Ukrainians who have taken the fight directly to the Russians and continually won – despite many dismissing that possibility, including our own intelligence community. That very same heroic kind of resistance, and the very same help from friends and allies, will be required for Taiwan to preserve its freedom and democracy.

The conflict in Ukraine is closely related to what will happen in Taiwan. Indeed, China openly supports the brutal Russian invasion. This reflects Xi Jinping’s own ambition to launch a similar assault on Taiwan. He knows full well that if Putin can outlast the free world and get away with it – with murder and war crimes in Ukraine – his own chances of success against Taiwan will be stronger. U.S. support for a win in Ukraine enhances our ability to deter Beijing in Taiwan.

Congress has led the Biden Administration to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Now, Congress should lead, once again, to help Taiwan defend itself against Communist China. In fact, for decades, Congress has led the effort to preserve a free and democratic Taiwan. But to do this work on the timeline and scale required, we need to first understand the extraordinary ways in which Taiwan contributes to American interests.

Mr. President, I recently stood here and made the case for why Americans should care about supporting Ukraine. Today, I will pose a similar question: Why should Americans care about Taiwan? Well they should. We should.

First, failure to defend Taiwan would forever damage our position in the Indo-Pacific, calling into question our credibility and capability to defend our other allies and partners, such as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand. Since the end of World War II, our allies have relied on the United States of America, underpinning more than seven decades of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. America has also benefited greatly from this peace and prosperity. Today, Japan is our fifth largest trading partner, and South Korea is our sixth largest trading partner. A failure to defend Taiwan would upend that stability, and our allies and partners could abandon America if that happens. Simply put, peace in the Pacific means jobs for Americans. War in the Pacific, on the other hand, would put American economic freedom at risk.

In addition, what happens in Taiwan will have consequences for whether our allies decide to pursue new capabilities they have thus far forsaken. With open access to the Pacific Ocean, Beijing would almost certainly push Tokyo, Seoul, and others to acquire nuclear weapons, or even to rebalance from the United States to China. What this development would mean for the U.S. alliance network and stability in the Indo-Pacific is unthinkable.    

Our allies and partners also play a pivotal role in providing key military basing in the Western Pacific. With U.S. bases in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, our national defense in the Pacific is strong. With U.S. bases in Japan, South Korea, and now in the Philippines, our national defense in the Pacific is strong. Without those, our national defense would start on the shores of Guam or Hawaii, – rendering our homeland much harder to defend. These allies want us in their countries. We’re there because they have allowed us, and asked us to be in their countries. And they have each spent billions of dollars to build military facilities for our forces.

America’s web of alliances and partnerships is critical to our success in competing with China in the long run. With 60 percent of the world’s population, the Indo-Pacific is projected to be the largest contributor to global economic growth over the next 30 years. If we lose these critical partners, we would also cede a critical advantage in our effort to compete economically with China, a nation with five times our population and an economy nearly our size. So, that’s the first reason.

The second reason is that Taiwan is a linchpin of the global economy. A war over Taiwan, launched by China, would immediately send the global economy into a depression the likes of which we have not seen in a century. Americans would lose access to key semiconductors that are in our laptops, phones, cars, and countless electronic products that have become the backbone of daily life. As our colleague Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska said in a strong December speech on Taiwan, the semiconductor shortage in 2021 already cost Americans $240 billion and nearly 8 million cars – 8 million cars that we don’t have because of this shortage. Taiwan also exports a significant amount of advanced machine tools that underpin manufacturing jobs here in America. And over the past few years, Taiwan has been investing more in the United States and less in China. Chinese aggression against Taiwan would send shockwaves through the economy and upend daily life here in America – it would dwarf the economic effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and we need to whatever we can to prevent this aggression.

Third, Chinese control of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry would leave American supply chains extremely vulnerable to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing wants to seize that lucrative industry in order to gain a clear upper hand in the world economy. This which could cause massive economic pain for the United States. If Beijing gains control of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, it could rewrite the rules of global economy. Beijing wants to dictate the terms of any negotiations with the United States, costing Americans tens of millions of jobs and stalling our economic growth.

To sum this all up: protecting Taiwan as a free and prosperous democratic nation is absolutely vital to the prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren. Taiwan should matter to every American. 

Now, how do we ensure that a war over Taiwan never occurs – because that should be our goal – given what we know about Beijing’s intentions and capabilities?

We should be vigilant about applying the lessons we have learned in Ukraine. That means recognizing the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan. The U.S. military began training Ukraine eight years ago, following the Russian invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014. But we have done comparatively little to train the Taiwanese. With Taiwan, we are playing catch-up. We arm Ukraine through multiple land routes by rail and vehicles. In wartime, quickly arming Taiwan by air and by sea would prove extremely challenging. Also, the People’s Liberation Army in China is not the Russian military. They are much more focused and serious.

So there is simply no time to waste, Mr. President. We need to get high-quality weapons into Taiwanese hands now, before the conflict breaks out.

As Senator Phil Gramm and I wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal, we need to turn Taiwan into a porcupine so that Xi Jinping wakes up every day and concludes that an invasion is not worth the costs. Now, why do you say a porcupine? Any wolf has the ability to kill a gentle porcupine. And yet such an attack rarely occurs in nature. The defense of the porcupine’s quills, which can rip through the predator’s mouth and throat, is the deterrent that protects it from attack by the wolves. That should be our approach for Taiwan’s defense.

Last year, to begin work on this issue, Congress passed the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act. Congress provided the Biden Administration with the ability to send $1 billion worth of U.S. weapons stocks to Taiwan. We also authorized up to $10 billion in Foreign Military Financing with matching contribution by Taiwan. This brought to fruition years of work by our colleagues Senator Menendez and Senator Risch. We authorized the creation of a joint stockpile, accelerated Foreign Military Sales reform, expanded U.S. military training, and established the first-ever comprehensive oversight regime on U.S. national security work with Taiwan.

Lest we forget, our friends, the Taiwanese, are accelerating their own defense work for the sixth straight year, with a 14% increase in 2022. Their weapons purchases increasingly align with how our military experts envision a correct defense of the island, including with Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles, Stingers, anti-aircraft missiles, and secure communication systems. We should encourage this change in Taiwan’s focus. 

As General James Mattis once said, we need a willing partner in the Biden Administration to move at “the speed of relevance.” At “the speed of relevance.” At the speed of relevance. Last September, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees asked the Administration some very basic questions: Which weapons are most important in the Pacific? What training does Taiwan need? What weapons is Taiwan ready to buy? The Biden Administration has yet to respond to these questions, M_President, even though we know the State Department and Defense Department have completed the analysis.

In this case, silence will only make the situation worse. We need answers. I reiterate, Congress needs this information to perform our duties – our constitutional duties -- effectively. So, I am calling on the Biden Administration to work with us, M_ President, to accelerate the transfer, financing, and sale of a key set of military capabilities to Taiwan. The President needs to use the authority that Congress provided to transfer $1 billion in weapons to accelerate the expansion of our training programs in Taiwan. Make no mistake: the President’s actions will have direct consequences for Taiwan’s ability to defend itself and for our ability to prevent a war in the Pacific.

Without these tools, China will continue to gain the upper hand in the Taiwan Strait. We need to offset and deter the Chinese military from taking actions in the first place. An influx of American weapons will go a long way toward assuring them that we stand with them against Chinese aggression – and encourage other nations to join us. As Ronald Reagan said, “peace does not exist on its own will. It will depend on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.” End quote from Reagan, one of the great advocates of peace through strength. That is how we will help Taiwan preserve its freedom and democracy and how we can avoid war in the Pacific.

At the same time, the Armed Services Committee will intensify focus on own our work – ensuring our military has every tool it needs to deter and, if necessary, defeat the People’s Liberation Army. We must fix our munitions production problem and focus on the high-end weapons that our troops need. We need to modernize and expand the Air Force and the Navy while honing the Army and Marine Corps for their missions in the Western Pacific. We also have to explore new ideas for nuclear modernization to respond to the unprecedented Chinese nuclear buildup, given that our commanders now tell us the Chinese have more ground-based launchers for nuclear weapons than we do. And we must continue our work to improve the quality of life for all our servicemembers and their families so they can focus on the tasks at hand.

In conclusion, Mr. President, Congress has prioritized financial and material support for Ukraine to help turn the tide in that war. The security of Taiwan is no less important than the security of Ukraine. The threat to global and economic security from communist China has the potential to jeopardize the prosperity and safety of Americans, here in the United States. It is time for our actions to reflect the significance of that threat.