U.S. lawmakers, accusing the administration of kowtowing to China, called Tuesday for an end to restrictions on visits to the United States by high-level officials from Taiwan.
The demand was adopted by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives and now goes to a full vote in the lower chamber of Congress. A parallel resolution is in the works in the Senate.
The U.S. government is wary of hosting top-level Taiwanese officials for fear of offending China, which considers the island a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Even U.S. transit stops by Taiwanese politicians, such as one by President Chen Shui-bian en route to Central America in January, are guaranteed to irk Beijing.
The resolution's sponsor in the House, Republican Steve Chabot, said it was time to send a clear message to Beijing over Taiwan, which the United States is legally bound to defend in any military conflict.
"It is terribly unfortunate that democratically elected officials from Taiwan are not permitted to visit our nation's capital -- while the unelected leaders of communist China are given the red-carpet treatment," he said.
"Taiwan is our loyal friend and ally, a strong trading partner, and a vibrant democracy. Our current policy is insulting to Taiwan and sends a wrong signal to the rest of the world."
What triggered all this was President Chen's appearance in digital form at the National Press Club. What's the problem? Therese Shaheen, formerly head of the officially unofficial US representative office here, AIT, writing at the American Enterprise Institute, described the situation thusly:
Today, the bureaucracy makes decisions by self-policing an unstated policy of "nothing goes." One recent example: In May, the U.S. National Press Club hosted a discussion with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian by video link. U.S. officials at the desk-officer level concluded that it would undermine policy to attend this public event, reasoning that Mr. Chen's appearance was intended as an attempt to circumvent restrictions on senior Taiwan officials visiting Washington, D.C.The State Department and Taiwan supporters within and outside of the Administration are in the middle of a huge spat over the State Department's position on Taiwan. What usually happens with such laws is that the House passes them and then the Senate strikes them down. So don't expect too much...
But the lack of interaction goes beyond one-off, questionable decisions such as that. Military officers at the one-star level or above, or the civilian equivalent, are not permitted to meet in Taiwan with their counterparts. While there is serious contingency planning at high levels on both sides, senior U.S. planners and decision makers do not interact with their Taiwan counterparts. The dialogue instead is conducted by proxy at lower levels of government.
Even simple meetings are less frequent in recent years. As late as 2003, State and Defense Department officials--albeit at the mid-grade deputy assistant secretary level--were permitted to meet regularly with senior Taiwanese officials including the foreign minister outside of Washington, D.C. That contact no longer takes place. At the highest levels, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship would have to get much closer to even describe it as "arms-length." No cabinet-level officials have met their Taiwanese counterparts since the Clinton administration.
[Taiwan] [US] [China] [Chen Shui-bian] [State Department]