The NDAA approves appropriations for national security programs across the U.S. Department of Defense, Energy, and State Department. Paragraph 1246 of the law deals with Taiwan, which divided with the Chinese mainland more than 70 years ago, but which Beijing considers part of its territory, and leader Xi Jinping has promised to bring under Chinese control.
Washington has been committed to the island’s autonomy since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which allows the United States to provide Taipei with the means to defend itself against Beijing aggression.
Referring to the 1979 Act of 2022, the NDAA states that “the United States must continue to support the development of skilled, ready and modern defense forces necessary for Taiwan to maintain adequate self-defense capabilities”, including “where appropriate, invite Taiwan to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise conducted in 2022 “.
The extensive exercise is expected to take place next summer with the participation of more than 48 military units from 20 nations and 25,000 crews, according to a December statement from the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet in San Diego, which oversees RIMPAC.
The U.S. Navy has not revealed specific invitees for RIMPAC 2022, but a potential invitation to Taiwan would be the first ever extended to the island. Any potential invitation can take a variety of forms, from ships or planes to a handful of observers.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii on Tuesday did not respond to a request for comment on a possible Taiwan invitation.
“RIMPAC engagement is a political statement as much as a professional opportunity. The invitation, if it were to take place, marks Taiwan as a friend and partner for the United States,” said Carl Schuster, former chief operating officer at the US Pacific Commands Joint Intelligence Center.
He called the NDAA language “a strong political-strategic statement that has its roots in China’s escalating aggression against Taiwan” and other nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
Any Taiwanese involvement in RIMPAC would “send a strong political signal to Beijing that its behavior created this and has increased the potential cost if it were to choose the military aggression route,” Schuster said.
The United States has used previous RIMPAC exercises as an attempt to ease tensions with China, and invited People’s Liberation Army units as participants in 2014 and 2016, when the PLA Navy sent five ships and more than 1,200 troops to the Games.
Asked on Tuesday about the sections on China in the NDAA, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was opposed to using what it called “domestic law” to try to “engage in political manipulation” regarding China.
“We urge the United States to abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking and ideological prejudices,” Mr Zhao said.
Sir. Schuster said including Taiwan in RIMPAC would help the U.S. Navy prepare for any preparedness around the island.
“It is a (potential) opportunity to train with Taiwanese naval units and personnel, gain relations and knowledge that could prove very important if China decides to attack Taiwan,” he said.
But he warned that any presence of Taiwanese military units at RIMPAC could provoke divisions among other participants.
“As it sends a strong political signal to China, Beijing will pressure many of the traditional Asian participants, such as South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, to decline the invitation or refuse to participate in exercises with the Taiwanese units,” he said.
“Something to think about as China reacts strongly to political signaling.”
RIMPAC 2022 will be the 28th version of the event.
The United States, Australia, and Canada founded the exercises in 1971 as an annual event, but in 1974 they were moved to a biennial basis when several nations were invited to participate, according to the U.S. Navy.