On October 12, in spite of Beijing’s strong protest, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which calls for the complete lifting of restrictions on high-level visits between the United States and Taiwan.
Edward Randall Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Currently, the State Department enforces self-imposed restrictions on official travel between the U.S. and Taiwan. This bill denounces that practice by encouraging more frequent official visits – including at the highest levels – and will serve to further strengthen the critical U.S.-Taiwan partnership. ”
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese foreign ministry took a strong stance toward the committee action.
On October 13, at the regular press briefing, ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China firmly opposed this move, since “the relevant bill has severely violated the one-China policy and the principles of the three China-U.S. joint communiques and constituted interference in China’s internal affairs.”
She further urged the United States to comply with the one China policy and “cautiously handle the Taiwan question, not to engage in any official exchange and contact with Taiwan or send any wrong message to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists lest the larger picture of the China-U.S. relations should be disrupted and undermined.”
While Hua’s strong remarks seem to be completely in line with expectations for most observers of China, what is really worth noting this time is Beijing’s unusual move before the committee’s hearing: the Chinese Embassy in Washington presented a formal complaint to the U.S. Congress, threatening “severe consequences” if the bill passed, according to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported that Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, sent the letter to leaders of the House and Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committees in August, pressing them to “use their power to block Taiwan-related provisions in the bills.” Such bills “have crossed the ‘red line’ on the stability of the China-U.S. relationship,” the letter said.
Beijing’s intention to sent the letter in the first place was to prevent the bill’s passage, but the tactic angered U.S.lawmakers and ended up being counterproductive.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat, Eliot L. Engel, told Josh Rogin: “China carries out this kind of heavy-handed behavior with other countries around the world…It’s interesting to me that they now feel that they can get away with these kind of threats and vague pressure tactics with the U.S. Congress.”
Some U.S. lawmakers and staffers even told Josh Rogin that “the Chinese threat” was “unusual and out of line.”
Meanwhile, the supporters of the bill in Taiwan sincerely welcomed Beijing’s unusual measures. Some commented on their social media platform that Cui’s letter was a “godsend.”
There is a saying by Confucius that is not only famous in the East but somewhat popular in the West: “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough.” The final result — that the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bill without being deterred by Beijing’s threat — seems to be a perfect illustration of the saying.
Yet, before the bill becomes law, it still must win approval by the full House, then the Senate, and finally the U.S. president. Although most observers believe the possibility of the bill becoming law is very slim, it’s uncertain whether Beijing will make more counterproductive moves in the future.