The US Senate on Oct. 29 unanimously passed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act. The legislation was introduced by US Senator Cory Gardner — chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy — and designed to assist Taiwan in retaining its remaining diplomatic allies.
The TAIPEI Act requires US government departments to take steps to support the strengthening of Taiwan’s diplomatic ties and informal partnerships with Indo-Pacific region nations and the wider world.
If a country severs formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the act requires the US Department of State to conduct a review to determine whether an adjustment is needed in the US’ relations with that country.
The act instructs US government officials to use public statements, their votes and the influence of their office to provide support for Taiwan’s participation in the international community, and supports the US and Taiwan entering into bilateral trade negotiations and completing a mutually beneficial free-trade agreement.
The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Oct. 30 gave the act its unanimous consent. At a committee meeting, Congressional Taiwan Caucus chair Steve Chabot said: “Taiwan is a critical ally in the Pacific and ought to be a role model for other nations across the globe.”
Chabot said that Taiwan fulfills all the criteria of a sovereign state and is an independent nation, and called on the US government to officially recognize Taiwan, adding: “It’s well past time that US policy catches up with these facts.”
US Representative Ted Yoho echoed Chabot’s statement, saying that it is time for the US to officially recognize Taiwan as a nation.
Once the act is passed by both chambers, any differences between the two versions of the bill would be worked out and it would be sent to the White House for US President Donald Trump’s signature, after which it would be enshrined into law.
Over the past few years, the Senate has passed a succession of Taiwan-friendly bills, such as the Taiwan Travel Act, which was signed into law by Trump last year.
However, the president and a number of government officials believe that these acts are merely an expression of the Senate’s opinion and are not legally binding. As a result, many of the Taiwan-friendly clauses within these laws have not been enforced.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) have praised Taiwan-US relations as being at their the strongest in four decades, but Wu is still blocked from visiting Washington on official business.
Wu thinks of himself as a great foreign minister, yet, putting political considerations aside, some US officials have privately said that he is stubborn and difficult to communicate with, and try to avoid getting embroiled in an argument with him.
Former US national security adviser John Bolton was the strongest advocate for Taiwan in the Trump administration.
Bolton subscribes to the position of former US president Ronald Reagan revealed in declassified memos about maintaining a military balance in the Taiwan Strait. In his role as national security adviser, Bolton promoted arms sales to Taiwan, but his proposals were obstructed within the Trump administration.
Bolton’s successor, Robert O’Brien, visited Taiwan prior to Tsai’s election in 2016. On his return to the US, O’Brien offered some advice, saying that Taiwan should increase its defense budget, join the now-defunct US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership — by resolving issues preventing the lifting of Taiwan’s ban on US pork imports — and secure a free-trade deal with the US.
O’Brien was very clear. The underlying meaning was that Washington views Taiwan as enjoying a free lunch by running a defense budget that equates to only 2 percent of GDP, which is unacceptable to both US Republicans and Democrats.
If Taiwan’s defense budget continues to be inadequate in the eyes of the Washington, there is a danger that the US could lose patience with Taipei.
In other words, O’Brien said that the US would continue to help Taiwan, but only if it helps itself. Taipei must live up to US expectations on defense spending; only then could it expect the US military to come to its rescue in the event of war with China.
Perhaps the Tsai administration would argue that it is unable to increase the defense budget due to other domestic priorities, but people in the US think that embarking on a massive program of infrastructure spending to extend the high-speed rail line to Pingtung and Yilan counties disregards Taiwan’s urgent national security situation.
Taipei counts on the protective umbrella of the US military as a sort of insurance policy, but the problem is that there is no such thing as free insurance. As everyone knows, if you want the insurance company to pay out, you have to pay the insurance premium every year.
If the Tsai administration wants to sign a free-trade deal with the US, it must face up to the reality that it will need to open up Taiwan’s market to US pork imports. The government cannot continue to avoid this issue — it must be resolved after the election.
Parris Chang is a former deputy director-general of the National Security Council.
Translated by Edward Jones
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