US Congress Passes Taiwan Travel Act

A bill calling for high-level visits between American and Taiwanese officials was passed by the US House of Representatives yesterday, January 9.

HR 535, The Taiwan Travel Act, calls for an end to the self-imposed restrictions on high-level visits between the two countries that have been in place since Washington recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1979.

The USA has maintained unofficial relations with the Republic of China, the nominal ruler of Taiwan, in the ensuing 39 years, using a policy of deliberate ambiguity under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Congressman Steve Chabot, who sponsored the bill said

“I have always felt that restricting high-level visits by senior Taiwanese officials is both insulting and counterproductive. This is U.S. policy-our own self-imposed restrictions. I have repeatedly said that this policy is nonsense and should be changed. I have also long believed that the Administration should encourage direct dialogue with the democratically elected President of Taiwan. It is well known in international diplomacy, that face to face meetings are an important component in ensuring a sustainable relationship. Fortunately, the House took a strong step today towards rectifying this unacceptable situation.”

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce said:

The U.S. and Taiwan share a commitment to democracy, rule of law and human rights, and Taiwan’s successes serve as an example of what can be built based on these principles. We should be supporting countries that have achieved democracy to serve as inspiration for these values across the Asia Pacific.

“That is why, as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have worked hard to build stronger ties in our relationship with Taiwan. I applaud the House in passing two bills today that send a strong message of support to our friend and partner, Taiwan.”

China’s Heavy-Handed Diplomacy Preceded Passing of the Bill

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act October 12, much to the chagrin of Beijing. On October 13, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “the relevant bill has severely violated the one-China policy and the principles of the three China-U.S. joint communiques and constituted interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Hua urged the United States to comply with the one China policy and “cautiously handle the Taiwan question, not to engage in any official exchange and contact with Taiwan or send any wrong message to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists lest the larger picture of the China-U.S. relations should be disrupted and undermined.”

While such statements are in line with Beijing’s usual rhetoric, China’s not-so-diplomatic tactics may have backfired before the Foreign Affairs Committee voted on the act.

Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reported that Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai had sent a letter to senior lawmakers warning them to back off passing new laws that would strengthen the US relationship with Taiwan, and threatening “severe consequences” for the US – China relationship.

According to Rogin, this only angered lawmakers and staffers on both sides of the house.

“The United States should continue to strengthen our relationship with Taiwan and not allow Chinese influence or pressure to interfere with the national security interests of the U.S. and our partners in the region,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio .

“China carries out this kind of heavy-handed behavior with other countries around the world. It’s interesting to me that they now feel that they can get away with these kind of threats and vague pressure tactics with the U.S. Congress,” House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel told Rogin.

Having passed in the House of Representatives, the bill will now go to the Senate, and if passed, to the President, to be signed into law.

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