Sensing an opportunity with the incoming Democratic majority in the US Congress, Taiwan's leading congressional lobbying organization, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), plans to campaign to have future Taipei directors of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) go through the full, formal Senate confirmation process.
The plan aims to ensure a higher quality of professionalism among future AIT directors and raise the profile of Taiwan in Washington, FAPA president C.T. Lee (
While the campaign will not attempt to change the director's title to ambassador, it is premised on the assumption that the director's position is essentially that of an ambassador to a country, Lee said.
The campaign is among eight priority issues that FAPA plans to press during the 110th Congress, which convenes next month. The other seven have been perennial issues for FAPA, but the Senate confirmation issue has been added this year.
The list was compiled by FAPA's Washington-based staff and is expected to be approved by the association's board of directors next week, Lee said.
"The United States Constitution determines that every United States Ambassador needs to be confirmed by the Senate," a FAPA lobbying agenda for next year provided to Taiwan reporters said. "FAPA believes that the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan [after all the equivalent of an ambassador] should be confirmed by the Senate as well."
Lee added that the congressional sweep by the Democrats should help Taiwan's case.
"Since the Congress has a new leadership, a new change, this gives us the opportunity to initiate this issue," Lee said. "A moment of change always creates new opportunities," he said.
He listed two advantages of having a full-blown hearing and confirmation process.
"Number one, the confirmation process will produce a better person, that is, a person who understands Taiwan, China and the Asia Pacific region better. Second, the questions that will be raised by the confirmation process will have a lot of value for education, both to Congress and to the American public," Lee said.
The process will produce a "more qualified person, a more suitable person for this important post," he said.
Lee said that this objective implied no criticism of current or past AIT directors.
Under the US Constitution, the Senate must give its "advice and consent" to ambassadors, cabinet members and Supreme Court Judges. However, the list of posts requiring Senate confirmation has grown substantially over the years as a result of laws passed by Congress.
Today, the list stretches into the thousands.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee alone must confirm more than 140 positions in the State Department and other agencies, in addition to the ambassadors to well over 150 countries. Virtually all of these approvals are required as a result of specific laws, not mandated by the Constitution.
As a result, FAPA is confident that an AIT director confirmation process could be enacted by a future law.
Lee and FAPA lobbyist Coen Blaauw say the organization plans to start in the House, which is expected to be relatively susceptible to the idea. Then, it would have to deal with the Senate, which is generally wary or hostile to such major changes.
The AIT was created in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of Jan. 1, 1979, which established unofficial relations between Washington and Taipei in the wake of the US diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China in Beijing the year before.
But the TRA did not specify how the Taipei director or the Washington-based Chairman were to be selected and appointed, although it did give Congress monitoring authority over the operations of the organization.
As a result of organizational and legal changes in recent years, sources say, AIT officials have all but become officials of the State Department, with the department issuing their pay checks, their e-mail address being a department address and the rest of their official existence becoming indistinguishable from department diplomats.
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