Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan Travel Act a step closer

By Lu Yi-hsuan and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer and CNA, WASHINGTON

US Senator Bob Menendez is pictured at a meeting of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in Washington on Tuesday last week.

Photo: AFP

A bill to encourage exchange visits by Taiwanese and US government officials was on Wednesday passed by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

US Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the committee, said the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act shows that Taipei and Washington embrace common interests.

The committee passed the legislation without any amendment.

The bill is now to move on to the floor of the US Senate.

Ahead of the committee vote, Corker told the committee members that Taiwan is a good friend and partner of the US, and that Taipei has been providing assistance to Washington in dealing with a wide range of matters on the international stage.

Senior US government officials rarely visit Taiwan because of Washington’s formal diplomatic ties with China and lack of official relations with Taipei.

When then-US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy traveled to Taiwan in 2014, she was the first Cabinet-level US official to visit the nation in 14 years.

No other official of that level has visited since.

“The United States government should encourage visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels,” the bill states.

The legislation aims to “allow officials at all levels of the United States government, including Cabinet-level national security officials, general officers and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts,” the bill says.

US Senator Robert Menendez, one of the sponsors of the bill, said a move by the US to continue its commitment to Taiwan is critical to the security of Washington, as the two sides have established close ties through their similar attitudes on democracy and human rights.

The bill passed by the committee is the same version approved by the US House of Representatives last month, so if the US Senate passes the legislation there would be no need for the two chambers to negotiate over a final version and the bill could be sent directly to US President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Beijing is closely watching to see whether US Congress acts on the Taiwan Travel Act, US political news Web site Politico reported earlier this month.

In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday welcomed the committee’s passage of the act, saying that it fully supported the intent of the bill and welcomed visits by senior US officials.

The bill’s passage reflects bipartisan support in the US Congress to deepen bilateral relations with Taiwan, ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said, adding that the ministry would keep close tabs on developments related to the legislation.

Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan on economic investment, culture and education, as well as energy collaboration, have demonstrated that the US Department of State and the US Congress have been making sincere efforts to promote practical US-Taiwan interactions, he said.

It might take the US Senate several weeks before it votes on the bill, he added.

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