Taiwan: US Pledges Unwavering Commitment
The US Congress on Tuesday [24 March 2009] pledged "unwavering commitment" to ensuring Taiwan's security, defying protests from China which claims the island.
Congress reaffirmed its stance 30 years after the United States broke off relations with Taiwan, which recently has been reconciling with China but still counts on US guarantees of protection.
The House of Representatives in a voice vote approved a resolution that pledged an "unwavering commitment" to the Taiwan Relations Act and called it a "cornerstone" of US policy.
The Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to maintain the capability to defend Taiwan and to provide the island "arms of a defensive character."
Representative Shelley Berkley, the chief sponsor of the 30th anniversary bill, said the resolution sent an important signal as Taiwan "enters a new era of cross-Strait relations."
"Taiwan is an inspiring story of expanding freedom, a robust capitalist economy and a strong trading partner of the United States," Berkley, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, said on the House floor.
"We must do everything in our power to continue protecting it and ensuring its survival," she said.
Congress pushed through the Taiwan Relations Act when president Jimmy Carter shifted US recognition to Beijing from Taipei, where China's nationalists fled 30 years earlier after losing the civil war to the communists.
Taiwan's de facto embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, released a statement saying it "deeply appreciates the bipartisan and uniform support of the US Congress."
China had warned Congress not to reaffirm the Taiwan Relations Act, which it views as a violation of US promises to recognize only Beijing as China's legitimate government.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu, in a statement carried by state media last month [February 2009], urged Congress and the administration to "prudently handle the Taiwan issue so as to avoid any negative impact on Sino-US relations."
Tensions have been easing since Taiwan last year  elected President Ma Ying-jeou, who has focused on trade rather than confrontation with China.
But China has warned it will never compromise on its claims to Taiwan, which it believes is awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The Obama administration has called for a strong partnership with Beijing, saying it hopes to work on issues such as the global economic slowdown and climate change despite differences such as human rights concerns.
The two nations engaged in a naval showdown earlier this month [March 2009]. The United States said Chinese vessels harassed one of its surveillance ships, which Beijing said was engaged in illegal activities.
"This provocative action and many others like that should serve as a cause for concern when dealing with that nation that regularly violates human rights," said Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.
"That highlights the importance that the people of Taiwan know and that the world know that the US Congress stands with a strong and proud democracy," he said.
But Republican Congressman Ed Royce, another co-sponsor of the resolution, voiced disappointment that the resolution did not focus more on trade.
He called for movement on a long-mulled free-trade agreement with Taiwan, although he doubted there would be enthusiasm by Obama -- who has called for the United States to renegotiate key trade deals to better benefit US workers.
"Certainly if we throw up trade barriers, it would do much to destabilize Taiwan's economy. We shouldn't give trade short shrift," Royce said.