US Senate passes legislation promoting ties with Taiwan

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Beehive Firecrackers in Taiwan
A participant wearing a motorcycle helmet gets sprayed by firecrackers, during “Beehive Firecrackers” festival at the Yanshui district, in Tainan, Taiwan, March 1. -- REUTERS

WASHINGTON — The United States Senate on Wednesday passed a bill promoting US-Taiwan relations — legislation likely to infuriate China.

The Taiwan Travel Act, intended to encourage visits between the US and Taiwan “at all levels” was passed by unanimous consent, having passed the House of Representatives in January.

The bill adds that it should be US policy for high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the US, meet with US officials and conduct business in the country.

President Donald J. Trump’s signature is now all that is needed for the bill to become law — something that is not likely to be an obstacle, given that the bill was passed unanimously.

Washington cut formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, recognizing the Communist mainland rulers in Beijing as the sole government of “One China.”

But, under the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, Washington maintains an ambiguous approach to the island, maintains trade relations and sells Taipei weapons.

Mr. Trump sparked protest from China shortly after his election in 2016 by accepting a phone call from Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen, an action seen as breaking the protocol of the One China policy.

He made amends by vowing to uphold the One China policy shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort — but infuriated Beijing again last summer by approving a $1.3-billion arms sale to Taiwan.

White House officials did not immediately respond when asked if Mr. Trump planned to sign the legislation. It would be unusual for a president to veto a measure that passed unanimously.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Senate’s passing of the bill.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry thanked the US for the unanimous support for the bill and for the US government’s increasingly friendly and open attitude towards Taiwan.

“The Foreign Ministry will keep developing an even more substantive cooperative relationship with the United States, to promote both sides’ joint values and mutually beneficial interests,” it said.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office said the US was its most important international ally, and that it would discuss the matter with the United States and further strengthen relations.

The US has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. China regularly says Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in its ties with Washington.

China has become increasingly hostile to Taiwan since the election as president of Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2016.

China suspects Ms. Tsai wants to push for formal independence, a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though she has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace. — AFP and Reuters