The US should take steps to enhance its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan
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Earlier this year, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited Central America, where she was welcomed and received warmly by governmental leaders and officials in each nation she visited. However, she did not receive quite the same open, friendly reception here in the United States, where she stopped on her way to and from Central America.

In fairness, President Tsai was not turned away at customs, and she was able to meet with numerous Americans, including several members of Congress, during her stays in Houston and San Francisco. But, she was received as a private individual, not as head of state.

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Given the reception she received in Central America versus the U.S., one has to ask -- why?

To that question, there is both a simple and a complex answer.

The simple answer is that decades-old State Department policy forbids official visits between high-level government officials from the U.S. and Taiwan. This policy is rooted in a desire by the State Department not to offend the People’s Republic of China, which denies Taiwan’s sovereignty, and claims it as a Chinese territory.

However, the situation becomes far more complex when we consider U.S.-Taiwan relations. Officially, the U.S. neither recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign nation, nor Beijing’s territorial claim to Taiwan. Instead, Taiwan – a beacon of democracy in Asia – exists in a murky, diplomatic form of purgatory. It is treated like a nation in some respects, but not in others.

Our relationship with Taiwan is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, which was enacted in 1979, and has served to bolster a democratic renaissance in Taiwan over the last four decades. It is U.S. policy to require that any change in Taiwan's status be determined through negotiation and peaceful means. In addition, we have a long-term commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China.

For the past 37 years, high-ranking Taiwanese officials have been barred from direct diplomatic engagement in Washington, D.C. Given that the U.S. has a legal and moral responsibility to defend Taiwan in the face of aggression, it’s absurd that our president, our vice president, our secretary of State, and our secretary of Defense cannot meet face-to-face with their Taiwanese counterparts, due to our own misguided policy.

This outlandish and outdated policy not only runs counter to our own security interests, but it also tells China that we’re willing to yield to them in our foreign policy matters. This conveys weakness to Beijing, and emboldens them to continue their aggressive, long-running campaign to isolate Taiwan.

Quite simply, it’s time for a change. The U.S. should have a direct dialogue with our democratic allies in Taipei. And that’s what the Taiwan Travel Act is all about.

This bipartisan legislation, which I introduced along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), states that official U.S. policy should encourage visits between American and Taiwanese officials at all levels of government.

It is well known in international diplomacy, that face-to-face meetings are an important component in ensuring a sustainable relationship between nations. By enabling direct dialogue between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, the Taiwan Travel Act will help to strengthen our relationship and our partnership with this important democratic ally.

Congress needs to pass this common-sense legislation, so that next time President Tsai visits the U.S., she is given the respect her position deserves, and she is welcomed as head of state at the White House.

Chabot represents Ohio's 1st District and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.