Senate bill raises prospect of joint U.S., Taiwan drills

June 20 (UPI) — U.S. defense policy priorities outlined in the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Authorization Bill that passed this week are raising speculation in Taiwan the United States could pursue joint training with Taiwan’s military.

The 2019 U.S. Senate National Defense Authorization Act proposes the Pentagon “promote exercises concerning exchanges that enhance the security of Taiwan, including United States participation in appropriate Taiwan exercises, such as the annual Han Kuang exercise.”

The U.S. Senate also called on Secretary of Defense James Mattis to “not enable or facilitate the participation of the People’s Republic of China in any Rim of the Pacific naval exercise” unless China ceases land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported Wednesday potential joint exercises “would lead to strong opposition from China.”

Tensions have escalated between Beijing and Taipei as calls for independence grow in Taiwan and China has responded with military exercises close to the island.

Beijing does not recognize Taiwanese sovereignty under its “one China” policy.

The Trump administration has condemned Chinese buildup in the South China Sea, and the Senate bill proposes 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.”

The bill’s proposals come about a month after the Pentagon withdrew its invitation to China for the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC exercises.

“No country that acts [adversely] should be invited to multilateral exercises,” the bill states.

Taipei Times reported Wednesday the Taiwanese government expressed gratitude to U.S. Congress for its latest statements.

“We will continue to engage in talks with the U.S. government’s executive branch to strengthen security cooperation between the two nations,” said presidential office spokesman Sidney Lin.