The US House of Representatives adopted a measure on Wednesday that would eliminate a large number of restrictions on meetings between US and Taiwanese officials in Washington, restrictions that have lent a bizarre quality to the way the two sides communicate with each other, and have been put in place only to placate China's sensitivities.
The House agreed by a verbal vote to the measure, adding it as an amendment to a bill that would fund the activities of the State Department and others agencies next year.
The amendment would prevent the administration from spending any money on enforcing the restrictions, which were contained in a 2001 "guidelines" memorandum from the State Department to the rest of the administration on dealings with Taiwan officials.
Among other curbs, the memorandum bans visits by Taiwanese personnel to the White House or State Department, makes Taiwan's Twin Oaks mansion off limit to US officials, prevents US officials from attending Taiwan's Double Ten celebrations and stops senior military officers from visiting Taiwan. It has required indirect communications that have often introduced misunderstandings and even places restrictions on "thank you" notes passed between the two sides.
House leaders are said to expect the funding bill to be passed this week, before the annual July 4 congressional recess period. It would then go to the Senate, where inclusion of the Taiwan provisions in the larger bill is still uncertain.
The House action is believed to be the first time Congress has acted to directly confront the Bush administration over its curbs on dealings with Taiwan.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the two co-chairmen of the Senate Taiwan Caucus have introduced a resolution urging the removal of all limits on visits to the US by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and all other high-level Taiwanese officials.
The legislation, which would express the "sense of Congress" in support of such visits, comes in the wake of a contentious incident in May, when the State Department refused Chen's request to make a transit stop in the contiguous US en route to and from Latin America, leading Chen to avoid the US altogether.
The resolution describes Taiwan as "one of the strongest democratic allies of the United States" in the Asia-Pacific region and complains that while Chen cannot visit Washington, the US government has permitted China's unelected leaders to make such visits "routinely."
The travel restrictions "deprive the [US] president, Congress and the American public of the opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue" with Taiwan, the resolution says, adding that "since the Taiwan Strait is one of the flashpoints in the world, it is important that United States policymakers directly communicate with the leaders of Taiwan."
The resolution, introduced by Senators George Allen and Tim Allen on Tuesday, marks the first time the caucus has become involved in the issue since it was formed in September 2003. It also marks the first resolution urging the lifting of the travel bans to be introduced in the Senate in nearly six years.
The measure parallels a resolution introduced in the House in April by Steve Chabot and Sherrod Brown, two co-chairmen of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, which is now under consideration by the House International Relations Committee.
Both resolutions note that in 1994 Congress passed legislation that provides that the Taiwanese president and other high-level officers "shall be welcome in the United States, including Washington, at any time to discuss a variety of important issues," a law that the White House has failed to act on.
Taiwan supporters in Washington were thrilled by both legislative actions.
"Lifting these humiliating restrictions will force State Department bureaucrats to treat Taiwan as an equal partner in freedom and democracy," Representative Thomas Tancredo said.
"China shouldn't control our foreign policy, Americans should," he said.
"In approving this amendment, the House voted for respecting democracy and human rights abroad," Representative Robert Andrews said.
Formosan Association for Public Affairs president Lee Ching-tai described the actions as "the watershed moment in normalizing diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the US."
"Today is an historic day," he said, adding, "It is difficult to imagine that we even need regulations for our diplomats on how to write a simple thank you note to their Taiwanese counterparts. Such arcane, mundane and ridiculous restrictions only waste the time and energy of our diplomats, [not to mention] the tax payers' money," he said.
In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday expressed its appreciation of the House vote..
Spokesman Michel Lu (
China, however, said yesterday it strongly opposed moves in Washington to lift decades-old restrictions on contact US officials can have with Taiwan, saying it ran counter to the "one China" principle.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (
Jiang said it ran contrary to the commitment to the "one China" policy the US has confirmed many times.
Additional reporting by Chang Yun-ping and agencies
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