A major new bill to strengthen and enhance the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) has been introduced to the US Congress by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairperson of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee.
“With the TRA and the 2000 Taiwan Relations Enhancement Act, it is the most important piece of Taiwan legislation in the US Congress over the past 30 years,” said Coen Blaauw, an executive with the Formosa Association For -Public Affairs.
Known as the “Taiwan Policy Act of 2011,” the bill may have enough bipartisan support to pass the Republican-controlled House, but it is likely to have a harder time in the Senate.
“Taiwan is one of our closest and most important allies, and it is time again for our foreign policy to reflect that. This legislation seeks to reverse the pattern of neglect and inattention by the [US President Barack] Obama administration toward critical US-Taiwan issues,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
She said that it was “deeply concerning” that Obama’s commitment seemed to be faltering “most glaringly” through continued refusals to sell Taiwan advanced F-16C/Ds or diesel-electric submarines.
“This bill supports the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan and endorses a wide range of defense exports to the island, and strengthens congressional oversight of defense transfers to Taiwan,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The bill also supports visits by Cabinet-level and other senior Taiwanese leaders to the US, reaffirms [former US] president [Ronald] Reagan’s Six Assurances as guidelines for the conduct of US-Taiwan relations, supports visa-waiver treatment for Taiwanese travelers to the US as soon as all requirements for inclusion in the program are met, and encourages the negotiation of a trade and investment framework agreement, and eventual negotiation of a free-trade agreement.”
“China must not be allowed to dictate US policy in the Pacific,” she added.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Democratic Representative Robert Andrews and Republican -Representatives Dan Burton, Edward Royce, Steve Chabot and Mario Diaz-Balart.
“In recent years, United States-Taiwan relations have suffered from inattention and lack of strategic vision, thereby requiring the Congress to both clarify US policy toward Taiwan and enhance its oversight role in the implementation of the TRA,” the 24-page bill said.
It has been introduced at a tense moment in US-Taiwan relations, with Obama nearing a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1 to announce his decision on whether to sell Taipei 66 advanced F-16C/D jets.
There has been extensive speculation that he will bow to Chinese pressure and refuse to sell the fighters, choosing instead to update and refit Taiwan’s fleet of aging F-16A/B planes. However, if the new bill became law, it force Obama to make the sale.
A congressional insider with access to back-room thinking said that while the bill had little chance of passing in its present form, it formed the solid basis of a negotiating platform between Congress and the White House.
“It’s a starting point to win at least some concessions from the Obama administration,” the insider said.
The new bill cites the TRA as requiring the US to “make available defensive articles and services,” and goes a step further by declaring that these should include new F-16C/D aircraft and upgrades of the existing F-16A/B fleet “essential to Taiwan’s security.”