China not consulted on visa deal: US

VISA WAIVER::The key development comes in the lead-up to the US presidential elections, but US authorities say the program is not a ‘message’ to any other nation

By William Lowther and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporters in WASHINGTON and TAIPEI

Thu, Oct 04, 2012 - Page 3

China was not consulted over the US’ decision to include Taiwan in the Visa Waiver Program (Visa Waiver Program ) on Tuesday, both the White House and the US Department of State have said.

“It did not from our perspective require any kind of special communication or interaction with Beijing,” a senior State Department official said.

A White House source said that while China knew in advance that the Visa Waiver Program announcement was to be made on Tuesday in Washington, the issue was never discussed with Beijing.

White House spokesman Jay Carney stressed — in a clear reference to China — that including Taiwan in the program was not meant to send a “message” to any other country.

“It’s a logical development in the close security, economic and people-to-people relationship between the US and Taiwan,” he said.

“The Visa Waiver Program decision is consistent with our commitment to have robust unofficial relations with Taiwan,” the US State Department official said.

“So no, we did not engage with the Chinese government,” he said.

The Visa Waiver Program announcement — leaked on Monday — was officially announced on Tuesday in Washington at a US State Department conference on travel and tourism.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said: “Today’s announcement is a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan. Taiwan’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program will not only stimulate tourism in the US, it will also enable us to work together to maintain the strictest security standards.”

In accordance with the Visa Waiver Program designation process, she said, the US Department of Homeland Security determined that Taiwan complies with key security and information-sharing requirements, such as enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the US; timely reporting of lost and stolen passports and the maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, aviation and document security standards, she added.

Taiwan is joining 36 participants in the Visa Waiver Program, which permits visa-free travel to the US for eligible travelers visiting the US for 90 days or less for business or tourism.

“The number of tourists bound for the US is growing all the time,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

“In addition to trying to ease the way for Americans to travel, we have matched that commitment with trying to ease the way for foreigners to travel here,” she said.

US media said the decision was announced at the height of the US presidential election campaign and could be connected to US President Barack Obama’s political agenda to show that he can be tough on China.

“Taiwan’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program is long overdue,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Howard Berman said.

“It is an appropriate designation and apt status for a country with whom we share such strong economic and cultural ties,” he said.

Berman concluded: “The free flow of Taiwanese visitors to our country will deepen the bond between the US and our democratic ally Taiwan.”

In Taipei, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) attributed the result to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “viable diplomacy,” saying the inclusion of Taiwan in the Visa Waiver Program will “bring great benefits” to US-Taiwan relations.

Lin said the ministry welcomed the US’ decision, adding that it signifies significant progress in elevating the nation’s image, enhancing Taiwan-US relations and contributing to the nation’s external relations handlings.

The progress will enable both countries to further enhance exchanges in trade and tourism, as well as culture and education areas, Lin said.

After having secured visa-waiver status, one of the most important tasks for Taiwan in advancing US-Taiwan relationships would be the resumption of negotiations under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement platform, Lin said.

Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), director-general of the ministry’s Department of North American Affairs, said the ministry will continue to seek visits to Taiwan by US Cabinet-level officials to consolidate cooperation in military and security areas.