Each year in recent years, the “Messages to Washington” section of AmCham Taipei’s annual Taiwan White Paper has strongly argued in favor of more frequent high-level visits to Taiwan by U.S. government officials. As stated in the 2017 White Paper, “it has been the Chamber’s experience that periodic visits by high-level officials can make a huge difference in building a strong bilateral relationship and in supporting the interests of American companies operating in Taiwan.”
Over the span of the past 17 years, it is remarkable that only one such trip by a Cabinet-rank official has occurred – the April 2014 visit by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. By way of comparison, in the single year of 2015 a total of six American Cabinet members made official visits to India.
As large and important a nation as India may be, its volume of trade with the United States is not significantly greater than Taiwan’s. Last year when India ranked as America’s ninth biggest trading partner with a total of US$67.7 billion in imports and exports, Taiwan was just slightly behind, in tenth place with a total of US$65.4 billion.
The logical conclusion is that the disparity in treatment of these two major trading partners of the United States has more to do with politics than economics. Clearly China can be counted on to raise a fuss whenever the U.S. government does anything that Beijing deems to be treating Taiwan too much like a normal country.
Although decisions on the dispatch of U.S. officials abroad are the prerogative of the Executive Branch, the voice of Congress can be highly influential. AmCham Taipei is therefore pleased to note that this year legislation known as the Taiwan Travel Act has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress to “encourage visits between the United States and Taiwan at all levels.” At a time when bipartisan cooperation in Congress is rare, it is also gratifying that these bills have generated backing from members of both major political parties.
The bill in the House of Representatives – co-sponsored by Republicans Steve Chabot and Ed Royce and by Democrat Brad Sherman – has already been passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and sent on to the full Committee for consideration. In the Senate, a similar bill has been proposed by Republicans Marco Rubio, Jim Inhofe, and Cory Gardner, together with Democrats Sherrod Brown, Robert Menendez, and Gary Peters.
Passage of the bills would assert the sense of Congress that officials of all levels of the U.S. government are allowed to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts, and that high-level officials of Taiwan may enter the United States, “under conditions that demonstrate appropriate respect for the dignity of such officials, to meet with officials of the United States, including officials from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and other cabinet agencies.”
The Senate version of the legislation would further require the Secretary of State to submit a semiannual report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee on the status of travel by U.S. executive branch officials to Taiwan.
AmCham Taipei urges members of Congress to support the Taiwan Travel Act in the interest of solidifying relations with a major trading partner, and one that shares American values of democracy and human rights.