A major new bill to strengthen and enhance the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) has been introduced to the US Congress by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairperson of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee.
“With the TRA and the 2000 Taiwan Relations Enhancement Act, it is the most important piece of Taiwan legislation in the US Congress over the past 30 years,” said Coen Blaauw, an executive with the Formosa Association For -Public Affairs.
Known as the “Taiwan Policy Act of 2011,” the bill may have enough bipartisan support to pass the Republican-controlled House, but it is likely to have a harder time in the Senate.
“Taiwan is one of our closest and most important allies, and it is time again for our foreign policy to reflect that. This legislation seeks to reverse the pattern of neglect and inattention by the [US President Barack] Obama administration toward critical US-Taiwan issues,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
She said that it was “deeply concerning” that Obama’s commitment seemed to be faltering “most glaringly” through continued refusals to sell Taiwan advanced F-16C/Ds or diesel-electric submarines.
“This bill supports the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan and endorses a wide range of defense exports to the island, and strengthens congressional oversight of defense transfers to Taiwan,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The bill also supports visits by Cabinet-level and other senior Taiwanese leaders to the US, reaffirms [former US] president [Ronald] Reagan’s Six Assurances as guidelines for the conduct of US-Taiwan relations, supports visa-waiver treatment for Taiwanese travelers to the US as soon as all requirements for inclusion in the program are met, and encourages the negotiation of a trade and investment framework agreement, and eventual negotiation of a free-trade agreement.”
“China must not be allowed to dictate US policy in the Pacific,” she added.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Democratic Representative Robert Andrews and Republican -Representatives Dan Burton, Edward Royce, Steve Chabot and Mario Diaz-Balart.
“In recent years, United States-Taiwan relations have suffered from inattention and lack of strategic vision, thereby requiring the Congress to both clarify US policy toward Taiwan and enhance its oversight role in the implementation of the TRA,” the 24-page bill said.
It has been introduced at a tense moment in US-Taiwan relations, with Obama nearing a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1 to announce his decision on whether to sell Taipei 66 advanced F-16C/D jets.
There has been extensive speculation that he will bow to Chinese pressure and refuse to sell the fighters, choosing instead to update and refit Taiwan’s fleet of aging F-16A/B planes. However, if the new bill became law, it force Obama to make the sale.
A congressional insider with access to back-room thinking said that while the bill had little chance of passing in its present form, it formed the solid basis of a negotiating platform between Congress and the White House.
“It’s a starting point to win at least some concessions from the Obama administration,” the insider said.
The new bill cites the TRA as requiring the US to “make available defensive articles and services,” and goes a step further by declaring that these should include new F-16C/D aircraft and upgrades of the existing F-16A/B fleet “essential to Taiwan’s security.”
In addition, the bill calls for Taiwan to be admitted to meaningful participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization and for Taiwan to be admitted to the US visa-waiver program.
“It is in the economic interests of the US and the national security interests of Taiwan for our two peoples to further strengthen and revitalize their trade and investment ties, including through an expanded Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement,” the bill says.
The bill adds that the US Trade Representative should conclude negotiations in the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and that there should be an ultimate goal of reaching a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
In the meantime, the bill says the US should launch a study into the feasibility of negotiating an investment and tax agreement with Taiwan.
Furthermore, it gives the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) the right to fly the Taiwanese flag in Washington and also gives TECRO the right to conduct official business at its Twin Oaks Estate, including activities involving members of the US Congress and the US government.
If the Taiwanese government wanted, it could change TECRO’s name to the Taiwan Representative Office. In effect, the bill would turn Twin Oaks into the Taiwanese embassy.
The bill calls for Cabinet-level officials to visit Taiwan and it would permit senior Taiwanese officials to visit the US “under conditions which demonstrate appropriate courtesy and respect for the dignity of such leaders.”
Also, it would permit high-level Taiwanese and US officials in all US executive departments to meet. It also calls for the signing of a comprehensive extradition agreement.
On the question of arms sales, the bill contains a long list of items that should be made available to Taiwan, including modern surface-to-air missiles, vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft, access to satellites for remote sensing and communication, submarines, anti-ship cruise missiles and enhanced senior-level training.
The bill also calls for an extensive review into whether Taiwan’s air defense forces retain the ability to effectively defend Taiwan “against China’s ballistic missile and air threats.”
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