The Taiwan Travel Act was proposed by members of the US House of Representatives on Jan. 13 last year, during President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stopover in San Francisco. The bill, which passed the US Senate on Feb. 28 after clearing the House on Jan. 9, was presented to the White House on March 5 for US President Donald Trump’s signature.
However, the bill has been met with criticism by those who believe it is merely symbolic and not legally binding. That is not entirely true. What these voices seem not to realize is that the bill will be a “legal weapon” to be deployed by the US against Beijing’s “one China” principle.
The House stated in the six findings of the proposal that “Taiwan has succeeded in a momentous transition to democracy beginning in the late 1980s and has been a beacon of democracy in Asia,” while high-level visits are “an indicator of the breadth and depth of ties” between Taiwan and the US.
As a result, it is necessary to remedy insufficient communication due to “self-imposed restrictions” that the US has maintained on high-level visits since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, the proposal said.
So, another US law named after Taiwan has been born.
The act makes three key points:
First, the policy allows officials at all levels of the US government to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts.
Second, it allows high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the US — under conditions that demonstrate appropriate respect for the officials’ dignity — and meet with US officials, including officials from the US Department of State, the Department of Defense and other Cabinet agencies.
Third, it encourages the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, as well as its branches, to conduct affairs in the US.
These points show that the act’s enactment legalizes the positive listing of the Taiwan-US interaction model, without any structural change due to party or personal preference. This is only the first step in Washington’s fight against Beijing’s “one China” principle with the help of the law.
The American Institute in Taiwan is to open its new office building in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) in June — a significant step for Taiwan-US relations. The compound is housed on a new 6.5 hectare site, at a cost of about US$170 million (NT$4.98 billion). At a time when the US is pursuing an Indo-Pacific strategy, the person that Washington sends to host the opening ceremony will be a focal point of global attention.
In the past, Washington would choose someone important who did not hold a government post. However, once Trump signs the act, the choice could be highly flexible because US officials at all levels would be allowed to travel to Taiwan, with even Trump being an option.
Is the act a symbolic one without legal force? Such a claim might have underestimated the act’s strategic import.
Shih Ya-hsuan is an associate professor of geography at National Kaohsiung Normal University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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