Trump signs Pro-Taiwan 2019 NDAA defense bill

Trump signs 2019 NDAA defense bill calling for boosting Taiwan's military

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Trump holding up newly signed NDAA bill.

Trump holding up newly signed NDAA bill. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- U.S. President Trump on Monday (Aug. 13) signed the US$716 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year of 2019, which includes provisions to improve Taiwan's defense capabilities to counter China's increasing military muscle.  

The NDAA, officially now known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019, for ailing Senator John McCain, sailed through the Senate 87-10, a week after the House passed an identical version of the bill on July 26. The Aug. 1 passage of the act marks the earliest congressional approval of a defense spending bill since 1978, and yesterday with President Trump's signature, it has become law.

The act includes a section added by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) specifically directed at strengthening Taiwan's defenses. Titled "Section 1257—Strengthening Taiwan's Force Readiness," is greatly expanded from the Armed Services Committee version and reads:

SEC. 1257. STRENGTHENING TAIWAN’S FORCE READINESS.

(a) Defense Assessment.—The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with appropriate counterparts of Taiwan, conduct a comprehensive assessment of Taiwan’s military forces, particularly Taiwan’s reserves. The assessment shall provide recommendations to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, readiness, and resilience of Taiwan’s self-defense capability in the following areas:

(1) Personnel management and force development, particularly reserve forces.

(2) Recruitment, training, and military programs.

(3) Command, control, communications and intelligence.

(4) Technology research and development.

(5) Defense article procurement and logistics.

(6) Strategic planning and resource management.

(b) Report Required.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report containing each of the following:

(A) A summary of the assessment conducted pursuant to subsection (a).

(B) A list of any recommendations resulting from such assessment.

(C) A plan for the United States, including by using appropriate security cooperation authorities, to—

(i) facilitate any relevant recommendations from such list;

(ii) expand senior military-to-military engagement and joint training by the United States Armed Forces with the military of Taiwan; and

(iii) support United States foreign military sales and other equipment transfers to Taiwan, particularly for developing asymmetric warfare capabilities.

(2) APPROPRIATE SECURITY COOPERATION AUTHORITIES.—For purposes of the plan described in paragraph (1)(C), the term “appropriate security cooperation authorities” means—

(A) section 311 of title 10, United States Code (relating to exchange of defense personnel);

(B) section 332 such title (relating to defense institution building); and

(C) other security cooperation authorities under chapter 16 of such title.

(3) APPROPRIATE CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES.—In this subsection, the term “appropriate congressional committees” means—

(A) the congressional defense committees; and

(B) the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives

The bill also contains a passage on Taiwan written by the Senate in Section 1258 titled "Sense of Congress on Taiwan." In the section, it reaffirms the Taiwan Relations Act and Six Assurances, calls for strengthened defense and security cooperation with Taiwan, supports supplying Taiwan with defensive weapons, recommends improved predictability of arms sales to Taiwan, states that the Secretary of Defense should promote policies that enhance Taiwan's security, calls for expanded cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and recommends sending a hospital ship to improve disaster response planning.

Under item 5, it calls on the Secretary of Defense to promote "exchanges that enhance the security of Taiwan, including opportunities for practical training and military exercises with Taiwan." It also calls on exchanges between senior defense officials and general officers of the two countries "consistent with the Taiwan Travel Act." 

The section then goes to call on expanded cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, before closing with a proposal that a U.S. hospital ship make annual visits to Taiwan in order to improve disaster response planning and preparation. The section closes with a recommendation that the U.S. should consider sending a hospital ship Taiwan as part of the annual “Pacific Partnership” humanitarian missions of the U.S. Navy.

The following is the full text of the section on Taiwan:

SEC. 1258. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON TAIWAN.

It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) the Taiwan Relations Act (22 U.S.C. 3301 et seq.) and the “Six Assurances” are both cornerstones of United States relations with Taiwan;

(2) the United States should strengthen defense and security cooperation with Taiwan to support the development of capable, ready, and modern defense forces necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability;

(3) the United States should strongly support the acquisition by Taiwan of defensive weapons through foreign military sales, direct commercial sales, and industrial cooperation, with a particular emphasis on asymmetric warfare and undersea warfare capabilities, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act;

(4) the United States should improve the predictability of arms sales to Taiwan by ensuring timely review of and response to requests of Taiwan for defense articles and defense services;

(5) the Secretary of Defense should promote Department of Defense policies concerning exchanges that enhance the security of Taiwan, including—

(A) opportunities for practical training and military exercises with Taiwan; and

(B) exchanges between senior defense officials and general officers of the United States and Taiwan consistent with the Taiwan Travel Act (Public Law 115–135);

(6) the United States and Taiwan should expand cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; and

(7) the Secretary of Defense should consider supporting the visit of a United States hospital ship to Taiwan as part of the annual “Pacific Partnership” mission in order to improve disaster response planning and preparedness as well as to strengthen cooperation between the United States and Taiwan.

Noticeably absent from the bill was a provision that would have levied penalties on ZTE to compensate for the lifting by the Trump administration of a trade ban on the company for violating sanctions. To express his dissent against the removal of the provision Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said, "I've never voted against the NDAA until today."