Ros-Lehtinen to seek enhanced TRA

UPGRADING RELATIONS::The new act could call for Taiwan to be admitted to the US visa-waiver program and urge a conclusion to bilateral trade and investment talks

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sun, Sep 04, 2011 - Page 1

US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairperson of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, will introduce new legislation over the next few days to strengthen and enhance the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

This move is aimed in part at pressuring the administration of US President Barack Obama into providing more support to Taipei.

A senior committee aide confirmed to the Taipei Times on Friday that Ros-Lehtinen planned to introduce a bill soon after the US Congress reconvenes on Tuesday — it is currently on break to celebrate the Labor Day vacation — and would quickly call a hearing on Taiwan policy.

The move is the most significant reaction to date to strong signals from the White House that Obama will announce that he is not prepared to sell 66 F-16C/D jets to Taiwan before the end of this month.

“There is a huge amount going on behind the scenes to push for this sale to be approved,” Los Angeles based Formosa Foundation executive director Terri Giles said.

Ros-Lehtinen’s proposed new legislation is still being written by committee staff, but sources said that it would be called the Taiwan Policy Act of 2011.

A similar bill will be introduced to the US Senate about the same time.

There is almost certainly enough bipartisan support to pass the bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but it may have a harder time in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“The new act will aim to clarify US-Taiwan relations and address the arms sales issue,” said a Congressional insider who has seen a preliminary draft.

Another source said that Ros-Lehtinen’s legislation would call for frequent Cabinet-level visits to Taiwan to foster deep and diverse commercial, technological and personal exchanges.

It is nearly 11 years since a US Cabinet-level official visited Taiwan.

The source added that the act would also set out new policies to govern decisionmaking on future arms sales to Taiwan based strictly on the nation’s defense needs.

It could also call for Taiwan to be admitted to the US visa-waiver program and urge a conclusion to the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks with Taipei.

In a speech to the Formosa Foundation earlier this summer, Ros-Lehtinen said: “It is strongly in America’s national interest to re-energize and upgrade relations between our two peoples and our two great democracies. In my capacity as chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I hope to do just that in the weeks and months ahead.”

Ros-Lehtinen scheduled a hearing for Aug. 2 at which US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Derek Mitchell were scheduled to testify.

However, shortly before the hearing, both men said they were unable to attend and the hearing was canceled.

Ros-Lehtinen now wants to reschedule that meeting so that her committee can question Campbell and Mitchell about the proposed F-16C/D sale.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has already pledged that a final decision on the sale will be announced before Oct. 1.

One source has told the Taipei Times that the US Department of State and Pentagon have suggested that Ros-Lehtinen’s Congressional hearing should be held next month, after the sale announcement.

However, the source said that the Foreign Affairs Committee had rejected that proposal and was pushing for both Campbell and Mitchell to be made available in the next two weeks.

At a hearing on Taiwan in June, Ros-Lehtinen said: “There is a new spirit of appeasement in the air. Some in Washington policy circles are suggesting that the time has come to recognize the reality of a rising China and to cut our ties to Taiwan. This would be a terrible mistake.”

“The commitments made in the Taiwan Relations Act have remained unchanged for over 30 years and still hold true today. Taiwan needs the means to defend itself from threats and intimidation. Taiwan needs the next generation of F-16 fighters now in order to protect its skies,” she added. “To avoid any misinterpretation about Congressional commitment to Taiwan’s security and its survival, I will soon introduce legislation to enhance the Taiwan Relations Act.”