House lawmakers said the island enclave was stepping up its defenses, but needed the United States to deliver on promised arms sales to stave off threats from China.
WASHINGTON — House lawmakers, returning from a pair of official trips to Taiwan aimed at bolstering ties with the self-governing island, called on Wednesday for the U.S. government to speed up weapons deliveries to shore up the enclave’s defenses against China — and bemoaned that existing channels had not lived up to their potential.
“We have to prove that we’re willing to deliver,” said Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House’s new select committee on China. He argued that Taiwan could not be expected to build defenses formidable enough to deter Beijing, which claims the island as its own, without the United States making good on a backlog of purchase orders worth almost $19 billion.
Mr. Gallagher was one of five House lawmakers who traveled to Taiwan during the congressional recess, meeting with top political, national security and business leaders to discuss how to enhance security and economic cooperation between Taipei and Washington.
Their trips proceeded without the levels of notoriety that surrounded Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last summer, which became an international incident after Beijing objected to the trip by canceling diplomatic and military engagements and conducting military exercises. Yet they are significant as evidence of a growing willingness by lawmakers of both parties to travel to Taiwan to bolster its profile as tensions between the United States and China grow.
“The more that our colleagues visit, see Taiwan, the more they will understand the issues,” said Representative Ro Khanna of California, a Democrat who also serves on the China panel and led a bipartisan delegation of House lawmakers. Referring to the Chinese Communist Party, he said, “To say it is provocative is to accept the C.C.P. narrative, and I just don’t think it’s true.”
Mr. Khanna and Mr. Gallagher returned from their separate but overlapping trips both intent on dispelling the idea that Taiwan is not ready to fight. Mr. Khanna said that although Taiwan’s preference would be to maintain the status quo of operating as a democratic self-governing entity even while China claims it, people in all the political parties lawmakers met with said “that they were committed to building up Taiwan’s defenses” to meet the threat of an invasion.
Mr. Khanna said he was pleasantly surprised by the “unanimity” he heard from competing political parties in favor of the recent move to increase the mandatory minimum military service from four months to a year, while Mr. Gallagher applauded Taiwan for taking steps to bring its military spending up to 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product.
Instead, Mr. Gallagher blamed the United States for not taking faster steps to provide Taiwan the weapons it might need for battle — including systems critical to defending the island against an invasion from the sea, like Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
“The Taiwanese still aren’t at the front of the line,” Mr. Gallagher said. “The Saudis are ahead of them, in a move that makes no geostrategic sense — and oh, by the way, we’re putting a bunch of our own Harpoon systems into deep storage.”
Taiwan obtains most of its U.S. weapons through foreign military sales, which are first approved by the State Department before being coordinated by the Pentagon. It is waiting on deliveries that include Harpoons, Javelin missiles and Stinger missiles. Last year, Congress gave the Biden administration new authority to send Taiwan defensive weapons from existing U.S. stocks and military assistance packages, but the grants were not funded as envisioned, with Taiwan instead being offered loans that have gone unused.
Part of the problem plaguing the promised arms sales to Taiwan is a shortfall in weapons production that has hampered efforts to make timely deliveries on arms shipments to several U.S. allies, including NATO members and Ukraine. Mr. Gallagher said on Wednesday that the Defense Production Act could be “modernized and utilized to make investments in the work force in order to turbocharge munitions production,” but offered no details about how that might be accomplished.
As a more immediate solution, he called for the administration to “MacGyver” the Harpoon missiles Taiwan needs by rejiggering systems already in the U.S. stockpile to make them more conducive to the terrain. The United States used similar emergency measures to expedite such weapons systems to Ukraine last year, to help its military take on the Russian navy.
Mr. Gallagher also said that if Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III did not personally work to clear the backlog, “I fear it’s not going to get resolved.”