The US Congress included for the first time a section on senior military exchanges with Taiwan as it passed its National Defense Authorization Act for the next fiscal year.
The Senate on Thursday voted 92-7 to pass the bill after it was voted through the House of Representatives 375-34 on Friday last week.
Section 1284 of the final version, which passed after coordination between the House and the Senate, states: “It is the sense of Congress that the [US] secretary of defense should conduct a program of senior military exchanges between the United States and Taiwan that have the objective of improving military-to-military relations and defense cooperation between the United States and Taiwan.”
Such a program should be conducted at least once each calendar year in both Taiwan and the US, the act says.
It defines “senior military exchange” as “an activity, exercise, professional education event, or observation opportunity in which senior military officers and senior defense officials participate.”
It also said the term “senior military officer” means a general or flag officer on active duty in the armed forces, while “senior defense official,” with respect to the US Department of Defense, means a civilian official at the level of assistant secretary of defense or above.
The bill is to be turned over to US President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law before he leaves office on Jan. 20, while it is up to US president-elect Donald Trump and his defense officials to decide how it is to be implemented.
Although the Congress has tried to include similar provisions in its budget bills over the past few years, they were dropped from final versions after the executive branch stepped in out of concern that the move would damage US-China relations.
Presidential Office spokesperson Alex Huang (黃重諺) yesterday said that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) appreciates and looks forward to improved and increased exchanges and cooperation with the US, and expresses her gratitude to the support of the US Congress and Taiwan’s long-term friends at all levels.
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