The US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging the administration of President George W. Bush to allow top Taiwanese officials to visit Washington freely in order to enhance bilateral communications.
The action, which now sends the bill to the Senate, was taken via a voice vote under rules that allow bill to be expedited, avoiding normal legislative delays. The bill was approved by the House Foreign Affairs committee last month, with the support of Democratic chairman Tom Lantos and ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
It was sponsored by Congressional Taiwan Caucus co-chairman Steve Chabot, and had attracted 46 co-sponsors by the time it reached the House floor.
The bill expresses the "sense of Congress" that "restrictions on visits to the US by high-level elected and appointed officials of Taiwan, including the democratically elected President of Taiwan, should be lifted."
Those curbs have been in effect since 1979, after the Carter administration switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing.
The bill also urges direct high-level exchanges at the Cabinet level in order to strengthen policy dialogue, saying "it is in the interest of the United States" to strengthen links between the US and elected Taiwan officials.
"Our insulting policy toward our democratic friend and ally should be cast aside to reflect the reality of our strong relationship with Taiwan," Chabot said in remarks prepared for delivery on the floor (he was unable to attend the meeting because of air transportation delays).
"Taiwan is a model for young democracies and a great friend to the United States. We should recognize that friendship by abandoning our insulting policy on high-level visits and welcoming our Taiwanese friends with open arms. It is the right thing to do," he said.
The House action came a week after several congressmen voiced strong support for such high-level visits during a visit to Washington by Democratic Progressive Party presidential hopeful Frank Hsieh (
Chabot cited the visit in his prepared comment to the House, noting the irony that if Hsieh wins the presidency, he would "no longer be able to come to visit with his friends in Washington, DC."
Ros-Lehtinen, in her comments, said: "The leaders and people of Taiwan have been among the most steadfast friends of the United States from the Pacific region."
Calling the current curbs on visits a "self-inflicted wound," she said that ever since the 1950s "the people of Taiwan and the people of the United States have stood together against the threat of communist tyranny. It is only natural to warmly welcome the leaders of such close friends to Washington."
Delegate Eni Faleomavega of American Samoa, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee's Asia subcommittee, said that the "ill-considered policy" stems from the fact that "the policymakers in the White House and State Department cringe in fear that Beijing or the People's Republic of China would be upset if we welcome Taiwan's leaders to our nation.
"To say that that is wrong-headed is an understatement," he said.
Calling Taiwan a "thriving and energetic democracy that is a shining beacon for human rights all over the Asia-Pacific region," Faleomavega emphasized the need for leaders of both countries to talk about common issues to boost bilateral ties and advance the cause of peace in the region.