Unless vetoed, Taiwan Travel Act to take effect by March 16

When the premier Lai Ching-te (left) attended the main question inquiries in the Legislative Yuan on Feb. 2, he said that Taiwan and the United States are firm allies and that the Executive Yuan welcomes and thanks the U.S. Congress for adopting the Taiwan Travel Act and hopes to further enhance the Taiwan-US relations in the future. (Photo courtesy of CNA)

Washington, March 5 (CNA) The Taiwan Travel Act, which promotes meetings and visits between high-ranking American and Taiwanese government officials, is expected to take effect by March 16 unless it is vetoed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The bill, which passed the Senate on Feb. 28 after clearing the House of Representatives on Jan. 9, was presented to the president on March 5, according to U.S. congressional records.

It will become law as soon as it is signed by the president, but it will automatically become law after 10 days even without the president’s signature.

Only if Trump vetoes the bill will it be struck down, but the chances of that happening are slim given that it was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House.

As of late Monday in Washington, the White House had not responded to a CNA question on when and whether Trump will sign the bill.

While many in Taiwan have hailed the passage of the act as a breakthrough in Taiwan-U.S. relations, veteran diplomats cautioned that the legislation merely expresses “the sense of Congress” and is not legally binding to the executive branch.

The bill seeks to change a policy that has barred high-ranking Taiwanese officials from direct diplomatic engagement in Washington and senior U.S. officials from visiting Taiwan since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979.

“It is the sense of Congress that the United States government should encourage visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels,” the Taiwan Travel Act says.

The bill stipulates that it should be the policy of the United States to allow officials at all levels of the U.S. government, including Cabinet-level national security officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts.

It also recommends that the U.S. government 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.

Though the legislation has no binding effect on the government, it drew firm opposition from Beijing, which said it seriously violated the one-China principle and the three joint communiques that govern China-U.S. relations.

In response to a question from CNA, Michael Cavey, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said last week that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed and that Washington remains committed to its one-China policy based on the three joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

He also noted “the U.S. Constitution establishes the Executive Branch and Congress as independent and separate branches of government. Both have important roles in making the foreign policy of the United States, but neither can control or speak on behalf of the other.”

(By Rita Cheng and Y.F. Low)