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Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

The United States Congress has consistently demonstrated broad bipartisan support for the security of democratic Taiwan even when the executive branch has been wary of confronting China over the issue.

When President Jimmy Carter completed President Richard Nixon’s opening to China by recognizing the People’s Republic in 1979, he yielded to Beijing’s conditions that Washington first sever diplomatic relations and abrogate the mutual defense treaty with the Republic of China on Taiwan.

{mosads}Members of the House of Representatives and Senate in both parties were irate and, in near-unanimous votes, passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) establishing unofficial diplomatic, commercial and security relations with Taiwan. The veto-proof margins left Carter no legal or political choice, and on Jan. 1, 1979, he signed the TRA into law. It states that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, [constitutes] a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”

Over the ensuing decades, subsequent Congresses, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, repeatedly have sought to implement the TRA by expressing strong moral and political support for Taiwan and urging successive administrations to back up the commitment by providing the weapons systems needed for its self-defense.

In the past few years, as China’s threats against Taiwan have mounted, congressional activism on behalf of Taiwan has increased. In 2018, Congress defied Beijing’s expanding strategy of isolating Taiwan diplomatically and enacted the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA), encouraging official visits between Washington and Taipei “at all levels of government.”  Whereas earlier administrations sought to discourage congressional initiatives on Taiwan, President Donald Trump, over Beijing’s strenuous objections, signed the TTA into law.

In his New Year’s Day message, Chinese leader Xi Jinping issued yet another ultimatum to Taiwan: Either “peacefully” submit to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party or Beijing will use force to impose it. In her own firm, dignified message, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen  responded that neither outcome is acceptable to the democratic people of Taiwan.

Coincidentally, just the day before, President Trump had signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which the White House touts as “establish[ing] a multifaceted strategy to increase U.S. security, economic interests and values in the Indo-Pacific region.” As part of that overall strategy, it reinforces the need for Washington to sell weapons to Taiwan and again calls for the exchange of high-level U.S.-Taiwan visits.

It is time for Congress and the Trump administration to take the U.S.-Taiwan relationship to the next level by carrying out the TTA’s mandate to end Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation and the TRA’s larger purpose of ensuring its democratic security. Congress should set the example by inviting President Tsai to address a joint session, thereby according her the honor and dignity she and the people of Taiwan deserve.

The invitation would follow in the tradition of previous appearances before Congress by world leaders who stood for democracy, freedom and human rights: Winston Churchill who led the fight against fascism in World War II; Vaclav Havel who stood up to communist tyranny in Eastern Europe; Nelson Mandela who prevailed against South Africa’s apartheid; and Shinzo Abe, who stands with the United States and other democracies, including Taiwan, in resisting Chinese communist aggression. 

{mossecondads}With Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the newly-restored House speaker and a record number of women in the House and Senate, it would be particularly appropriate to host Taiwan’s first woman president and Asia’s only presently-serving female leader. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also may have a special reason for supporting this initiative. He is married to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan of a family with extensive business interests in Taiwan and China.  

The event would need to be carried out in cooperation with the Trump administration, which would have to issue a visa to allow the Tsai visit. The president has shown his willingness to reexamine some of the encrusted habits inhibiting healthy U.S.-China-Taiwan relations. He shocked Beijing and like-thinking members of the foreign policy establishment when he courteously treated Tsai’s congratulatory post-election phone call as the routine expression of good wishes from a fellow head of government, and a democratically-elected president at that.  In the same iconoclastic vein, he said he didn’t consider the “One China policy” as sacrosanct.

To demonstrate the bicameral, bipartisan, unified U.S. government support for Taiwan, it should be unthinkable that while Tsai is here she would not also be invited to the White House to meet with President Trump. He surely would not want to repeat the moral and geostrategic mistake Henry Kissinger urged on President Gerald Ford when Nobel Prize laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn was honored by others in Washington but barred from the White House to avoid offending the leaders of the Soviet Union.

China, obviously, would be livid at these events, but it is high time it got over its decades-long pout on Taiwan. As to the negative effects on current trade negotiations, Beijing is never reluctant to do provocative things even as U.S.-China talks are under way on one bilateral issue or another. It is presently detaining and threatening to execute a Canadian citizen over an unrelated diplomatic dispute.

Washington should not be reluctant to do the right thing — supporting and honoring a brave Taiwanese leader, and her country, is the right thing to do.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010.  He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and is a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute.

Tags China–United States relations Cross-Strait relations Donald Trump Elaine Chao Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi One-China policy Taiwan Relations Act Taiwan Travel Act Taiwan–United States relations Tsai Ing-wen

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