US Congress passes laws providing support for Taiwan
As part of the massive stimulus bill just signed by US President Donald Trump was a section on Taiwan called the “Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020.”
Much of the content was “sense of Congress,” which isn’t legally binding on the executive branch, but does communicate what their expectations are.
Much of these we’ve seen before, including urging further military strengthening of Taiwan and helping Taiwan join international organizations.
The key–and legally binding part–is the following:
Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives a report that includes a description of—
(1) the results of the review pursuant to subsection (a) of the Department of State’s guidance on relations with Taiwan, including a copy of the reissued ‘‘Guidelines of Relations with Taiwan’’ memorandum; and
(2) the implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act (Public Law 115–135) and any changes to guidance on relations with Taiwan that are the result of such implementation.
While requiring the State Department to submit a report to Congress may not sound like much, it does require State to be accountable and deploy resources and personnel to the issue.
Congress is in charge of allocating budgets, and have some influence on executive branch affairs.
This serves notice that Congress is watching this issue, and especially the Taiwan Travel Act.
That act, which allows Taiwanese and US officials of any rank to meet, has led to some small improvements like Taiwan’s representative meeting officials on State Department ground.
But frankly it has been a bit disappointing so far how few and limited these improvements have been.
Following this, the US House and Senate both voted to overrule President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Once again, buried deep in this military spending bill were provisions on Taiwan.
Section 1260 requires the U.S. Secretary of State to make an annual briefing to Congress on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan within 45 days of the bill’s passage.
The section states that the U.S. Secretary of Defense must brief Congress within 180 days of the bill’s passage on the feasibility of establishing a medical security partnership with Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.
Once again, Congress is driving home the point that it is paying attention, and making sure US officials are working on the issue–or had better have a good excuse as to why they aren’t.
Also in the bill was a section that doesn’t directly mention Taiwan, but could be important:
Congress allocates US$2.235 billion to the U.S. Department of Defense for the establishment of a “Pacific Deterrence Initiative.”
The bill states that the initiative will comprise activities to “enhance the United States deterrence and defense posture in the Indo-Pacific region, assure allies and partners, and increase probability and readiness in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The word “partners” could easily include Taiwan, and Taiwan is a potential flashpoint for war, and is a player in the South China Sea.
Two other recent Congressional moves disappoint
Those weren’t the only pro-Taiwan moves coming from the US Congress recently.
In mid-December a joint letter by 78 US lawmakers called on the US government to change the name of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington to the “Taiwan Representative Office” and start talks toward a free-trade agreement.
The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials, noted “The use of the word ‘Taipei’ fails to accurately reflect the strong ties the United States has not only with national-level government officials in Taiwan’s capital city, but with many subnational governments as well as the people of Taiwan.”
The letter also highlighted the discrepancy with the Taiwan Relations Act, the law under which the US government conducts unofficial relations with Taiwan after Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, does not use the name “Taipei.”
The lawmakers also called for negotiation of a bilateral free-trade agreement, saying Taiwan has shown that it is ready to begin the difficult process of negotiating such a deal after the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen decided to lift certain restrictions on imports of US pork and beef products.
The lawmakers also asked the US Department of State to raise “self-imposed guidelines” restricting bilateral relations, including where and how US officials are permitted to meet with TECRO diplomats.
The restrictions “appear designed primarily to manage tensions with China,” rather than to advance US interest in US-Taiwan relations, the letter says.
About a week ago, more than 30 members of the U.S. Congress, including 26 senators, signed a resolution calling for the U.S. to enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan.
It is unclear, however, if and or when it will go to a vote.
Both of these are great, of course–but also a disappointment.
In the first case it was signed by mostly, or entirely Republicans.
In the second case it was only Republicans.
With the House in Democratic hands and the incoming Biden administration Democratic, this is a worrying sign.
Democrats also not too long ago got wording in a pro-Taiwan bill specifically calling for a free trade agreement watered down to general “improved relations”.
President Tsai has spent considerable political capital domestically on the racto-pork issue in hopes of a trade deal with the US, but signs aren’t looking good.
On the changing of the name of TECRO, worryingly it doesn’t appear that the State Department responded, at least that I’m aware of.
The current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been a strong supporter of Taiwan, and this should be an easy call for him.
He, after all, negotiated a name change for the “Coordination Council for North American Affairs” (CCNAA) in Taipei to “Taiwan Council for U.S. Affairs” (TCUSA) in May 2019.
Other countries, including Japan, have made similar changes to office names–so why not the US?
The letter was also spot on calling out the State Department’s “self-imposed guidelines” and pointing out they seem to be more about China than improving Taiwan relations.
These self-imposed restrictions are in some ways ludicrous and petty.
They also fly in the face of the Taiwan Travel Act.
If the TECRO name and those restrictions are going to be dealt with, Pompeo would be the one most likely to carry through, but so far…nothing.
Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash