Sat, May 12, 2018 - Page 8 News List

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The Taiwan Travel Act

US President Donald Trump on March 16 signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law, a not insignificant change to the US-China-Taiwan relationship. It is the most recent change to policy governing the political relations between these three countries, but it has been a work in progress for years.

The act had a somewhat long road to adoption and has been introduced in the US Congress several times through different vehicles. The language has evolved, but the intent has not: to facilitate high-level contact and visits between US and Taiwanese officials.

The act has its genesis in several pieces of legislation introduced over the years as stand-alone legislation or as part of larger bills by US representatives Steve Chabot, Kerry Bentivolio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, among others, including: H. Con. Res. 136 expressing the sense of congress regarding high-level visits to the US by democratically elected officials of Taiwan, HR 2918 Taiwan Policy Act of 2011, HR419 Taiwan Policy Act of 2013 and H. Res. 185 Taiwan Travel Act.

In each iteration, it was stated that it should be a policy of the US to encourage visits between Cabinet-level officials from both nations and to permit those exchanges to occur through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office and other instrumentalities established by Taiwan.

It should be noted that these bills all establish a “sense of Congress” that high-level exchanges should be encouraged, but there is nothing contained in the language that would require such exchanges to be arranged. The most recent iteration that was signed into law is no different.

Most of these legislative initiatives were met with varying degrees of success, but none made it to the US president’s desk, and most were either not considered on the House of Representatives floor or never made it out of committee. The most recent success was the adoption of an amendment offered by Bentivolio to the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which contained nearly identical language to the Taiwan Travel Act. In fact, the amendment had been introduced previously by Bentivolio as H. Res. 185 Taiwan Travel Act.

Though it seems like a minor change, it can have substantial impact. Cooperation has been hindered by the “look, but don’t touch” approach afforded by current adherence to the “one China” policy, precedent and department-level policies. However, nothing in the Taiwan Travel Act violates any standing agreements the US has with China or Taiwan — it is simply an incremental step toward increased dialogue and intergovernmental exchanges. Fortunately, in this case, the US has a president who seems willing to forgo historic precedent and open more direct channels with the Taiwanese government.

Trump has certainly shown he is willing to buck precedent and make changes as he sees fit. Regardless of your opinion of him or his politics, expanding the relationship with one of the only successful democracies in East Asia is a move in the right direction, regardless of China’s protests.

If Trump’s signature is worth the paper it is written on, he will honor the intent of the Taiwan Travel Act and instruct the appropriate agencies to adopt policies that will promote and carry out exchanges at higher levels than we have seen since the 1970s. Considering his recent pick of John Bolton for national security adviser, such action may be on the horizon.

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