Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen addressed a welcome banquet in New York. Photo: Handout

Beijing stumbled again this month on the international stage, reportedly denying entry visas for a bipartisan US congressional delegation to China that was also scheduled to visit Taiwan. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, US Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat, revealed that Chinese officials told members of his staff that visas would be forthcoming only on the condition that they cancel a stop in Taiwan.

In his October 13 op-ed, Maloney equated Beijing’s request with “visa blackmail, designed to stanch the long-standing tradition of robust US congressional engagement with Taiwan“ and warned that “ham-handed and obtusely enforced pressure campaigns“ would only “invigorate congressional support for Taiwan.”

Maloney met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on October 7, just days before US Republican Senator Ted Cruz also visited Taiwan to attend the “Double Ten” National Day celebrations celebrating the 108th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of China. The ROC government relocated to Taiwan in the aftermath of the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces more than 70 years ago, which led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Mainland China has since threatened to use force to occupy what it considers “sacred territory,” although the self-ruled island has never been controlled by the PRC.

The visit by Cruz last Thursday marked the first time in 35 years that a US senator had attended a National Day event and was indicative of the strong and growing bipartisan support for Taiwan in recent months as Beijing seeks to isolate Taipei. Cruz then visited Hong Kong, where a planned meeting with embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was canceled after her request that the meeting be completely confidential.

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While Cruz’s visit to Hong Kong stands in contrast with the refusal by Beijing of the congressional delegation’s visas for China, any further efforts by Beijing to bully or blackmail the US Congress will likely result in countervailing efforts by those congressional members who support Taiwan. For his part, Maloney has responded to Beijing’s rebuff by threatening to look for ways Congress can “reinforce US support for Taiwan” in the coming months.

One potential reinforcement could be through more frequent and higher-profile visits between Taipei and Washington government officials, as encouraged under the Taiwan Travel Act. Passed in March 2018, the act states that “It should be the policy of the United States to (1) allow officials at all levels of the United States government, including cabinet-level national-security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts; (2) allow high-level officials of Taiwan to enter the United States, under conditions which demonstrate appropriate respect for the dignity of such officials, and to meet with officials of the United States, including officials from the Department of State and the Department of Defense and other cabinet agencies.”

While the language of the Taiwan Travel Act suggests “it should be the policy” to promote travel between the two states, visits by US officials have mostly been low-profile in the 20 months since the act was passed, disappointing some observers. Former House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Meale did visit Taipei for the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act in April, but some Taiwan watchers had hoped for visits by active and higher-level US officials for such an important event.

With the rapid turnover in President Donald Trump’s administration, certainly there are several former US officials who could plausibly visit Taiwan without irking Beijing. But what this latest bullying effort by Beijing against the US congressional delegation seems to confirm is the need for greater coordination of foreign policy between Washington and Taipei, and for more visits to Taiwan by active US government officials like Cruz as well as more visits by Taiwanese officials to Washington, as called for under the Taiwan Travel Act.

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