The US government will support Taiwan’s efforts to build “asymmetric” defence capabilities meant to deter an attack by mainland China’s military, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers on Tuesday, amid questions from members of both parties about US President Joe Biden’s resolve on the issue. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said the administration was “determined to make sure that [Taiwan] has all necessary means to defend itself against any potential aggression, including unilateral action by China, to disrupt the status quo that’s been in place now for many decades”. “We’re focused on helping them think about how to strengthen asymmetric capabilities … as a deterrent,” he said. There has been heightened concern about a possible attack on Taiwan by Beijing’s military since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and the mainland stepped up fighter jet sorties near the island even before the war began. “I think we are now aligned between our views of what their asymmetric capabilities need to be, and their views, which is an important thing,” said the committee’s chairman, Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey. “So I look forward to our robust engagement to help them have the capacity capabilities of that asymmetric capability.” Earlier this month, the State Department approved a US$95 million deal to sustain Taiwan’s air defences. The agreement includes equipment, training, servicing, deployment and operation of the Patriot Air Defence System. It is the third arms sale to Taiwan since Biden took office in January 2021. The others provide US$100 million of support services for Patriot systems, a deal announced earlier this year, and a 2021 proposal worth US$750 million that includes 40 new M109 Howitzer systems and other vehicles, weapons, parts and services. US weapons sales to Taiwan spiked under former president Donald Trump amid rising tensions with China. By the end of 2020, the Trump administration had informed Congress of US$18 billion in potential foreign military sales to Taipei, including a 2019 notification for F-16 fighter jets worth US$8 billion – the largest proposal so far. Biden administration approves submarine tech exports to Taiwan Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the Rand Corporation, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, said that in the past, America’s sale of high-end technologies such as F-16 fighter jets along with asymmetric defence weapons like Patriot missile batteries sent mixed signals in terms of what strategy it wanted Taiwan to pursue. For years, Taipei thought it could keep Beijing’s military at bay through relative military parity, he explained. “But as mainland China’s military modernized, Taiwan has reconfigured its defensive strategy to what’s called the ‘overall defence concept’, focusing on asymmetric capabilities.” Now, he added, Taipei’s strategy in the event of an invasion from the mainland is “to live to fight another day”. The US weapons sales have provoked angry responses from Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own and has not ruled out using force to reunify it with the mainland. While Washington does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it is authorised by the Taiwan Relations Act to support its defence capability and is its main supplier. Concerns in Washington escalated after Admiral Philip Davidson, then the leader of the US Indo-Pacific Command, warned in congressional testimony in March last year that an attack could come by 2027 – coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army, although a US Defence Department assessment months later was less dire. In its most recent annual report to Congress in November, the Pentagon noted that while China’s “diplomatic, political and military pressure against Taiwan intensified in 2020”, an amphibious invasion of Taiwan was “a significant political and military risk for [President] Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party”. The Chinese navy hasn’t focused on acquiring the tank landing ships and medium-sized landing craft it would need to successfully invade Taiwan, the report added. Instead, Beijing has invested in ocean-going platforms, “indicating a near-term focus on regional and eventually global expeditionary missions rather than … a large-scale direct beach assault”. Chinese warship transits Taiwan Strait hours before Biden-Xi call Still, China has escalated so-called grey-zone tactics in what analysts see as an effort to wear down Taiwan’s military and influence public opinion there. These include an unprecedented surge of incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone by Chinese fighter planes in 2021, forcing the island’s military to scramble jets in response. China also routinely holds military drills around Taiwan, most recently in response to a visit two weeks ago by a US delegation to the island led by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. A foreign ministry spokesman denounced that visit immediately afterwards, saying, “China is firmly opposed to any form of official exchanges between the US and Taiwan.” The Senate committee’s ranking Republican member, Jim Risch of Idaho, pushed Blinken further on Tuesday on efforts to bolster Taiwan’s defences, and suggested that the US should help fund that objective. “We must accelerate existing foreign military sales to Taiwan so they get there quicker, and we should use security assistance to help Taiwan acquire additional capabilities,” Risch said. “We should absolutely spend more to help with Taiwan’s defence. I hope you can commit to that during today’s hearing.” While Blinken returned often to the State Department’s efforts to strengthen alliances in the Indo-Pacific and support Taiwan’s asymmetric defences, he did not commit to speeding up weapons sales to the island or US government outlays for such an effort.