US House passes bills to bolster Taiwan, threaten TikTok ban

Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a destroyed building following a missile attack in Chernigiv on April 17, 2024 (Genya SAVILOV)
Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a destroyed building following a missile attack in Chernigiv on April 17, 2024 (Genya SAVILOV)

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives on Saturday quickly passed two key aid bills to counter China and bolster Taiwan while also threatening a ban on TikTok if it fails to divest from Beijing.

Voting on major bills on Ukraine and Israel was yet to come.

Lawmakers began voting on the foreign aid and arms bills, totaling some $95 billion, at 1:00 pm (1700 GMT), and embattled Republican Speaker Mike Johnson was forced to rely on Democratic votes for passage.

The bills are the product of months of acrimonious negotiations, pressure from US allies and repeated pleas for assistance from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Spending bills cost the last Republican speaker of the House his job, and funding for Ukraine has been at the heart of the partisan squabbling.

At the request of President Joe Biden, some $8 billion would be used to counter China through investment in submarine infrastructure and boosting competition with Beijing on projects built in developing countries.

Several billion dollars would be devoted to weapons for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that is claimed by China.

Another provision would force TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging that it is subservient to Beijing and a conduit to spread propaganda -- claims denied by the company.

In a statement on Friday, the White House said it "strongly supports" the legislation.

The United States has been the chief military backer of Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Congress has not approved large-scale funding for its ally for nearly a year and a half, mainly because of the bickering across the political aisle.

President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers in Congress have been pushing for a major new weapons package for Ukraine for months.

But Republicans, influenced by the party's presidential candidate Donald Trump, are reluctant to provide funding to Kyiv for the drawn-out conflict.

The financing of the war has become a point of contention ahead of a presidential election in November that is expected to pit Biden against Trump once again.

Johnson, after months of hesitation, finally threw his support behind a $61 billion package for Ukraine that includes economic assistance and weapons.

The bill also allows Biden to confiscate and sell Russian assets and provide the money to Ukraine to finance reconstruction, a move that has been embraced by other G7 nations.

"To put it bluntly, I'd rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys," Johnson said.

If the bill passes the House, the upper chamber could take it on as early as Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

- 'World is watching' -

A total of $13 billion in military assistance has been allocated for America's historic ally Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The money will essentially be used to reinforce Israel's Iron Dome air defenses.

More than $9 billion will be earmarked to address "the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world," the legislation says.

"The world is watching what the Congress does," the White House said earlier, adding that Biden would sign the various bills as soon as they were passed by both chambers of Congress.

US allies are expected to warmly welcome passage of the bills in the House, but it could cost the Republican House speaker his job.

A handful of far-right isolationist Republican lawmakers have warned they may oust Johnson for supporting the bills.

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