Fri, Jul 22, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Enhancing ties with US Congress

By Parris Chang 張旭成

Is it possible for Ros-Lehtinen and her like-minded colleagues to enact new legislation to enhance the TRA and bolster US-Taiwan security ties? This is almost a mission impossible, judging from the history of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA).

In March 1999, Republican senators Jesse Helms and Frank Murkowski and Democratic senator Robert Torricelli co-sponsored the TSEA to boost US-Taiwan security ties and to mandate the US to upgrade sales of advanced defensive weapons and technology to Taiwan, in an effort to override the objections of the administration of then-US president Bill Clinton.

The TSEA draft was taken up by the House of Representatives and, after some debate and amendments, was approved by a majority, albeit not veto-free, in March 2000. In the US Senate, however, the going was much tougher and several senators opposed to the TSEA were able to resort to a special senatorial rule to “hold” it, thereby obstructing its deliberation and ultimately killing it. In April 2001, three months after then-US president George W. Bush came into office, he announced a big package of arms sales to Taiwan, but refused to support the TSEA, because it could tie his hands in the future.

Does this mean Congress is powerless to affect the US-Taiwan relations? Absolutely not.

As Congress controls the purse strings, it is able to use allocation of resources to persuade, if not force, the executive branch to act. It could attach to the Defense Authorization Act a binding request for the Pentagon to provide a detailed report on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait and a complete review of Taiwan’s defense needs. Such a report would likely show the alarming military imbalance and China’s clear and present threat against Taiwan, and will thus have critical policy implications for the US under the TRA.

It is no secret that Chinese diplomats in Washington and visiting ranking officials from Beijing are actively lobbying the Obama administration and Congress. In contrast, officials at the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington have been relatively passive in accordance with the Ma government’s “diplomatic truce.” It is therefore imperative that Taiwan’s civic organizations, including the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), take up the job on behalf of Taiwan. It is incumbent on us to inform our US friends that our two peoples share the values of freedom and democracy and appeal to them to help us safeguard our independence and maintain the “status quo.”

Now that the DPP has nominated party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as its candidate in next year’s presidential election, it would be well advised to re-establish the party’s office in the US, as it was called the “DPP Mission in Washington” from 1995 to 2000. Now, as then, the office would communicate with and inform the US and the media where a future DPP government stands on Taiwan’s relations with the US, China, Japan and the EU, as well as the major planks of its policy platform. It must reassure the US that Taiwan, under a DPP government, would be a valuable, trustworthy, democratic friend that, unlike the Ma government, would not submit to China’s whims.

Parris Chang, professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University, is chair professor of general studies at Toko University and chief executive of the Taiwan Institute of Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.

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