House members floated ‘bringing Starlink into Taiwan’ with island’s president

Press Gaggle after Meeting with Taiwan President Tsai
CODEL led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, speaks with the press following a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. Jerry Dunleavy

House members floated ‘bringing Starlink into Taiwan’ with island’s president

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Members of the U.S. congressional delegation in Taipei say they floated an idea to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen about bringing the Starlink satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX into Taiwan to help the island nation defend against China.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was part of a bipartisan delegation which met with Tsai at the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday following the Taiwan president’s return from her trip to the United States. The House members revealed that strengthening Taiwan’s defenses and working to deter a possible Chinese invasion were key topics in their closed-door meeting with Taiwan’s leader.

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The U.S. congressmen raised the idea of having Taiwan bring in Starlink, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, similar to how Ukraine has used Starlink when defending against the Russian invasion.

McCaul said that he and Rep. French Hill (R-AR) spoke with Tsai about the importance of improving Taiwan’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities — known in the intelligence world as ISR — and that “we talked about Starlink coming in to provide that.”

“Communist China is very good at what we call intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. They have great eyes-on. They can see everything in the Pacific, in some cases better than we can in this area. Taiwan has none of that,” McCaul said. “We had a discussion, French Hill and I talked to the president about bringing Starlink into Taiwan.”

McCaul said that Taiwan has a law which would require them to “make a national security exception” for Starlink, but the House chairman said that “I thought that was one of the great constructive takeaways from our private meeting, was the idea of moving the StarLink system in so they can see into the Straits and into China and better respond and have better deterrence.”

Hill, who is also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, added that Taiwan has a “vulnerability with their undersea cable,” which could allow China to cut off Taiwan’s communication capabilities.

“They have a moat around Taiwan,” Hill added. “Ukraine doesn’t have a moat — the ocean — but Starlink was a critical element in the success in the early days of the Ukraine conflict, and we think that would benefit Taiwan.”

The Taiwan Space Agency announced plans in December to create its own low earth orbit satellite communications effort. A senior official at the Taiwan Space Agency reportedly said in January of this year that “we are going to spin our low-earth orbit satellite communications project off into a company.”

Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council said in February that it planned to launch its first low earth orbit communications satellite by 2025.

The Chinese government endorsed Musk’s October proposal to hand over control of Taiwan to Beijing by making the democratic island nation a “special administrative region” of China. Taipei officials, meanwhile, have condemned the plan.

Musk has significant business interests in China, especially when it comes to manufacturing and selling his Tesla electric vehicles there, and he has praised the Chinese Communist Party in the past.

The proposal by Musk was not a new one, as China has pushed it for decades, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping specifically called for this approach in a 2019 speech on Taiwan. Under such an arrangement, Taiwan’s independent national government would no longer exist, and ultimate authority would rest with the Chinese government.

Ukraine has made extensive use of Starlink during the war, but has also chafed under the restrictions the company has placed on it over how the satellite network can be used when repelling the Russian invaders.

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SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said in February that Starlink was “never meant to be weaponized” and that “Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement” when she announced that the company was limiting the Ukrainian military’s ability to use the satellite’s to control critical drone fleets in their battle against the Russians.

Mykhaylo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted in response that “a year of [Ukrainian] resistance, companies have to decide: either they are on the side of [Ukraine] and the right to freedom, and don’t seek ways to do harm, or they are on the [Russian Federation’s] side and its ‘right’ to kill and seize territories.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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