Act signals improved Taiwan-US relations

  • Post category:Op-Ed
Mike Kuo, President of FAPA

Not long ago, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) published an article discussing the Taiwan Travel Act’s legal status, legislative speed and cross-party support in the US. As expected, after the bill moved from a US Senate committee to the Senate floor on Feb. 7, it was discussed and voted on within three weeks — passing unanimously — thus completing its passage through the US Congress.

Presented to the White House on March 5, US President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

Because members of the US House of Representatives only serve two-year terms, if a bill does not complete the legislative process — clearing the House and Senate — within two years, it must start from the beginning in a new session.

An average of 15,000 bills are proposed in each session, but fewer than 5 percent make it to a Senate committee for discussion and a vote. The percentage of those passed into law on the Senate floor is even lower — the act making it through Congress was no forgone conclusion.

Some might wonder why the act was able to complete the legislative process in a quick 13 months.

FAPA in 2004 proposed a congressional resolution calling for the lifting of restrictions keeping top Taiwanese and US officials from visiting each other. In 2015, it continued the spirit of the resolution by proposing the act, lifting it to the legal status of a domestic law.

The “grassroots diplomacy” finally succeeded thanks to non-stop action over the past 14 years. The passing of the act by the Senate on Feb. 28 — the anniversary of the 228 Incident in Taiwan — had double significance.

Why did FAPA insist on pushing through the Taiwan Travel Act? People might not know that there are many unwritten restrictions in the US Department of State’s handling of Taiwan-US relations, including ones that treat Taiwan unfairly.

For example, then-Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in 1999 allowed to meet with members of the US Congress freely in Washington, but after Chen was elected president the next year, he was only allowed to transit through US cities designated by the department, and was warned not to meet with any Americans during transits.

At the time, like in the movies, a heavyweight US representative managed to reach Chen’s suite by taking the hotel’s freight elevator.

Similarly, during US transits, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was told not to make her schedule public, leave her hotel at will or take any interviews with the Taiwanese media. The Taiwanese journalists who traveled with Tsai were not permitted to stay at her hotel. Nobody would believe that such poor treatment was given to Taiwan’s elected president — it was simply unfair.

After more than 10 years of effort, the act is a signature away from becoming law. Of course, this does not mean that Tsai can visit Washington right after Trump signs the bill.

However, the act has three implications: It will improve and normalize Taiwan-US relations; it will strengthen trust between the two nations; and the US will treat Taiwan more fairly.

The American Institute in Taiwan is set to open its new office building in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) in June, and optimism is high that the US will send a high-level delegation to the opening.

One day, maybe the Taiwanese president will walk into the White House or US Capitol Building on behalf of Taiwanese.

FAPA will not cease its efforts to promote Taiwan in the US Congress, and to improve and maintain Taiwan-US relations. Let us march for Taiwan this spring.

This article is first published in Taipei Times (2018/3/13)