Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: US lawmakers stand by Taiwan

There were some encouraging — and reassuring — words and actions from the hearings held this week by the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

The first came from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who appeared before the committee on Wednesday to answer questions about the US’ foreign policy budget for the 2018 fiscal year.

After US Representative Steve Chabot raised the issue of Panama breaking ties with Taiwan because of pressure from China, Tillerson said the lawmaker had reminded him of the need to make it clear to Beijing that the US is committed to Taiwan.

While the administration of US President Donald Trump is in discussions with Beijing about the direction of the US-China relationship for the next 50 years, it is important for Washington to fulfill its commitments to Taiwan, Tillerson said.

The following day, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a hearing entitled “Renewing Assurances: Strengthening US-Taiwan Ties.”

Committee chairman Ed Royce opened the hearing by saying that it was “more important than ever” to reassure Taiwan of Washington’s commitment to the relationship.

Royce and other US lawmakers were also critical of delays by previous US administrations of arms sales to Taiwan.

While US Representative Brad Sherman said Taiwan should not be used as a bargaining chip in US-China relations, US Representative Ted Yoho criticized the manipulation of arms sales, saying the efforts to avoid causing friction with Beijing had given China influence over the arms sales process.

One of the people testifying at the hearing, former US Department of Defense senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia Dan Blumenthal, urged Trump to include Taiwan in its Asia-Pacific strategy.

As for the much-vaunted question of whether Taiwan would be able to buy Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets from the US, which Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said in April would be raised next month when ministry officials visit Washington, Blumenthal said the key issue was whether Taiwan could afford the aircraft’s “exorbitant costs” when there are other options available.

Perhaps the highlight of Thursday’s hearing was the subcommittee unanimously passing the Taiwan Travel Act, submitted by Chabot and cosponsored by Royce and Sherman, aimed at eliminating the restrictions on high-level visits between Taiwan and the US.

The bill goes to the full committee for approval and its chances for passage appear good, as it has support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers — as does a similar bill in the US Senate, which was introduced by three Republican senators and three of their Democratic colleagues.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday tweeted her appreciation of the remarks by Tillerson and other US officials and the continued support of friends in the US, Japan and other nations.

The government should do more than just tweet some words. The administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was often at such pains to cozy up to China in pursuit of cross-strait ties that it distanced itself from the US and Japan, which have been the nation’s strongest and most supportive allies for decades, so Tsai’s government needs to make it clear just how much it values their friendship.

However, it should also take Blumenthal’s comments about arms costs to heart in preparing for next month’s mission to Washington.

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