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Jan 18, 2024, 12:58pm EST
securitypoliticsEast Asia
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Semafor Signals

What US lawmakers’ Taiwan visit means for relations with China

Insights from Headlines Talk, South China Morning Post, and Foreign Policy

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William Lai
REUTERS/Ann Wang
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The News

A bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation is due in Taipei in the coming weeks, the Financial Times reported, as Washington echoes its support for Taiwan after the self-governing island elected pro-sovereignty candidate William Lai as its president.

It will be the second U.S. delegation to visit Taiwan since the election of Lai, who Beijing considers a separatist.

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While U.S. lawmakers have grown increasingly skeptical of China, many analysts warn that there are still deep policy divisions between Republicans and Democrats, and their decisions related to Taiwan are critical in preventing war and economic fallout.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Delegation visits are ‘knee-jerk reaction’ from White House

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Source:  
Headlines Talk

Biden’s decision to send delegations to Taiwan is merely a political ploy to gain support from China-skeptic voters, political commentator Dong Zhisen told the Taiwanese Headlines Talk news show. Biden is having a “knee-jerk reaction” to the possibility of being voted out of office this year, Dong opined, adding that he believes many American voters favor former president Donald Trump’s “tough on China” rhetoric. But this type of behavior only provokes Beijing and fuels military tensions, Dong argued, and Washington “can no longer cope” with any new war.

Bipartisan consensus on China is fading

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Sources:  
South China Morning Post, Voice of America

For most of 2023, Democrats and Republicans largely agreed on China foreign policy, but Democrats have taken a more moderate stance while Republicans have become more hawkish since Biden and Xi’s APEC meeting in November, the South China Morning Post reported. Democrats laud Biden’s “de-risking, not decoupling” approach of maintaining selective economic and industrial ties with Beijing, while Republicans, like House China select committee chair Rep. Mike Gallagher, slammed Biden’s bilateral meeting with Xi as “zombie engagement.” Analysts are worried that divergence on China risks huge economic fallout, according to SCMP, with bills meant to support $750 billion of trade with Beijing on the line as more Republicans push for a “whole of society exclusion of China,” such as student visa restrictions and TikTok bans.

China hawks keep ‘exaggerating’ Beijing’s military budget

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Sources:  
Foreign Policy, Military Purchasing Power, Roll Call

Amid heightened cross-strait tensions, China hardliners in Congress and the Pentagon keep on “overstating China’s military capabilities while underplaying the value of dialogue and diplomacy” to mitigate the Beijing threat, Foreign Policy reported. While there are legitimate concerns that China omits data about its defense spending, military economists estimate that Beijing spends about 59% of what Washington does, according to Military Purchasing Power. Much of China’s military technology is still vastly inferior to the U.S.’ stockpiles, but congressional hawks like Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla) insist on invoking the China threat in pushing for a larger defense budget. This is only exacerbating the risk of military confrontation between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan, the FP argued. The U.S. would likely be able to fend off China but “it would be a Pyrrhic victory,” the magazine opined.

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