Fri, Feb 13, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: What’s the beef with US visas?

What a welcome relief it must have been for the thousands of Taiwanese who travel to the UK each year when the British Trade and Cultural Office announced on Monday that, from March 3, Taiwanese would no longer require a visa for short-term visits.

The news will put an end to the extremely laborious and expensive process of applying for a visa that must have put many a person off visiting the UK in the past.

The question that many people must be asking now is, if the UK can include Taiwan in its visa-waiver program, then why can’t the US?

Taipei has been pushing hard for many years for inclusion in the US program and, as has been noted time and again, Taiwan meets all the criteria, including a low rate of visa rejection of around 3 percent — the threshold for qualification is less than 10 percent.

Indeed, the recent implementation of e-passports means Taiwan is more than qualified to be part of the US program, yet Washington refuses to budge on the issue.

The US State Department’s Web site says that even if a nation meets all the criteria, “designation as a [visa waiver program] country is at the discretion of the US government.”

Like the US’ refusal to discuss a free trade agreement with Taiwan, Washington’s continued rejection of Taipei’s advances on the visa issue has led some to speculate that China is the problem. However, the fact that the UK and many other countries that have close relations with Beijing, such as Japan, grant Taiwanese landing visas would suggest that this isn’t the case.

So what exactly is Washington’s beef?

Maybe Taiwan’s refusal to fully reopen its markets to imports of US beef is the source of the problem, as it is obviously a big bone of contention for many in the US. This was evident once again this week when the Taiwanese government found itself under pressure from American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young, as well as the president of the influential American Enterprise Institute think tank.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that the US has suspended talks on all Taiwan-US trade issues until the beef dilemma is resolved. If that is the case, then instead of procrastinating any longer, the ministry and the government should take the opportunity to turn the tables on the US and offer to open our market to US beef in return for inclusion in the visa waiver program. This is the kind of language Washington understands and would certainly create a “win-win” situation — to use the popular phrase.

Young, as the US’ main messenger on this issue, has repeatedly stated that Taiwan should make a ­“science-based” decision regarding imports of US beef. Well, it is time for the US to make a “fact-based” decision on allowing Taiwanese into the US.

If the UK government believes Taipei is trustworthy enough to tackle the problem of Chinese using forged Taiwanese documents to illegally enter its territory, then there is no reason why the US can’t do the same.

It is time to call Washington’s bluff on this long-­delayed issue.

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