U.S. bill to encourage high-level visits; Taiwanese removed from Australian conference; Taiwan’s bid to attend WHA

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

US senators introduce bill to encourage high-level visits to Taiwan

Six U.S. senators jointly introduced the Taiwan Travel Act on May 5 to encourage visits between the United States and Taiwan at all levels.

The draft bill states that Congress believes the U.S. government should allow officials at all levels, including cabinet-level national security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts, instead of placing restrictions on such visits.

“The legislation is important, especially as China attempts to block Taiwan’s participation in international organizations,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in his opening remarks.

“America should keep strengthening our relationship with Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, including by encouraging high-level visits between Taiwanese and American officials in our respective capitals,” said Rubio, a long-term supporter of Taiwan.

The senators introducing the bill include Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Taiwanese attendees at Australian conference removed at China’s request

A group of Taiwanese attending the Kimberley Process in Perth, Australia on May 1 was forcibly removed halfway through the conference at the request of the Chinese delegate.

The Chinese delegation disrupted the opening proceedings of the conflict diamond conference, which featured an indigenous Australian performance. They shouted over the microphone and prevented Foreign Minister Julie Bishop from taking the stage, to protest the attendance of a group from Taiwan. Following subsequent disruptions and objections later in the morning by both Chinese and African delegates, the conference chair, Australia, withdrew its invitation to the Taiwanese.

“It was regrettable. There is a time and a place for making political statements. I didn’t believe this was the time or place,” said Bishop.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed “regret and condemnation” at the Chinese interference.

US, Canada backs Taiwan’s bid to attend WHA

Canada has joined the list of countries to voice its support for Taiwan’s participation in the upcoming session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), saying that Taiwan’s participation in WHA is in the interest of global health.

Late last month, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman James Moriarty told an event in Taipei that the United States has welcomed Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the past eight World Health Assembly meetings and continued to support Taiwan’s “meaningful and substantive contributions to the international community.”

Excluding Taiwan from the WHA would be counterproductive and create a gap in global health systems in the event of an outbreak of a highly contagious epidemic around the world or in a region, says Canadian Senator Peter Harder.

The next session of the WHA, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), is scheduled for May 22-31 in Geneva, but Taiwan has yet to receive an invitation from the WHO’s Secretariat.

There has been concern that Beijing might try to block Taiwan’s invitation to the WHA this year, in light of strained cross-Strait relations since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May 2016.

Taiwan’s Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung has said he will lead a delegation to Geneva even if Taiwan does not receive an invitation. Foreign Minister David Lee said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is still working with Taiwan’s representative office in Geneva to obtain an invitation to the WHA, but “the outlook may not be so bright.”