Wanted: A Leader on U.S.–Taiwan Relations

Walter Lohman /

It’s official: There are now 100 countries that offer Taiwanese citizens visa-free travel. Malaysia has the honor of hitting the century mark—following closely behind Australia and Montenegro, which announced their decisions last week. An EU visa waiver for Taiwan went into effect this past January.

The U.S. has still not made it across the finish line. The Obama Administration is lumbering behind, weighted down by bureaucracy, a sclerotic and out-of-date Taiwan policy, and inattention. Taiwan is now under the 3 percent visa refusal rate—an ill-conceived requirement to begin with, but one that Taiwan now meets. Taiwan has instituted a pilot program requiring in-person application procedures to get past another American roadblock. That should be done and applied nationwide by July 1. There are other requirements: agreements on the exchange of passenger information and stolen or lost passports, law enforcement cooperation, and other security certifications.

All the requirements will be eagerly agreed to by the Taiwan side. Unfortunately, each step also presents cause for delay. In fact, there are reports today that the Obama Administration is adding an extraordinary new step – conditioning visa waiver on resolving the entirely unrelated issue of beef exports. Tying up trade talks for four years over the beef issue is apparently not enough. The Administration believes it needs additional leverage – granting Taiwan a travel status that is now routine for 100 other countries. Not much leverage there, and definitely not the way to treat a friend.

The American Institute in Taiwan, America’s un-flagged, unofficial embassy in Taipei, says it is all purely a legal matter, not political. Perhaps. But it is part of a much broader, suspicious pattern. For all of its statements of support for the Taiwan Relations Act—it’s always reassuring to know that any Administration intends to abide by the law—the Obama Administration’s Taiwan policy is paralyzed. Cabinet visit? No one available. Trade talks? Not the right time. F-16s? Inconvenient. Small routine arm sales notifications? It’s complicated. Extradition treaty? We’re working on it. U.S.–Taiwan Free Trade Agreement? Don’t be silly.

The common link between all of these is the question: What will the Chinese think? I sincerely hope that is not the holdup. But what other conclusion can be drawn? It’s either that or complete indifference.

We need a leader on U.S.–Taiwan relations. We need the President of the United States to make things happen. In the overall scheme of things, is visa waiver for Taiwan a small thing for POTUS? Sure. But it would also require very little of his time. Just send out the word: “Get it done. And sell them the darn F-16C/Ds they are literally begging for.”