Pacific News Minute: Beijing Objects to Taiwan Travel Act

Mar 7, 2018

Credit kwluth / Pixabay

While President Trump’s tough talk on tariffs hits a nerve in China, Congress hit an even more sensitive area last week; when both houses unanimously approved the Taiwan Travel Act. We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

On one level, the measure doesn’t change anything. The Taiwan Travel Act encourages visits of high level American officials to Taiwan and vice versa. 

Julian Ku of Hofstra University noted on the Lawfare Blog that there’s nothing to prevent such exchanges now. “But,” he wrote, “the U.S. government avoids such meetings out of deference to China.” 

The last U.S. Cabinet officer to visit Taiwan was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014. China issued a pro-forma objection but might react very differently if the next visitor is, say, the Secretary of Defense.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the Taiwan Travel Act as a severe violation of the One-China principle, while a spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office delivered a threat: “We sternly warn Taiwan not to rely on foreigners … it will only draw fire against yourself.”

Taiwan's Presidential Office Building in Taipei.
Credit CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / Wikimedia Commons

By coincidence, Congress approved the Taiwan Travel Act on February 28th – an important holiday in Taiwan. On 2/28 1947, Nationalist soldiers under Chiang Kai-shek put down a popular uprising, which killed tens of thousands of Taiwanese. Two former Presidents of Taiwan used the occasion to call for a referendum on independence next year.

In a way, such a vote would also not change anything. Under Taiwan’s Constitution, sovereignty cannot be decided by referendum – but China might see it as crossing a red line.