Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT)
August 21, 2000
When America's Founding Fathers created the separation of
powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches
more than 200 years ago, they gave our government a characteristic
that would long distinguish the United States as the world's
greatest democracy — a system of checks and balances. Members
of Congress have long had the freedom to meet with world
leaders and to travel to places the administration cannot.
Republicans and Democrats alike have traveled to Cuba to
meet with Fidel Castro, and to other countries with whom
the United States does not have formal relations, including
North Korea, Iraq and Yugoslavia. These meetings present
vital opportunities to discuss issues of mutual concern
that directly affect U.S. national interests. As ranking
Democratic member of the House International Relations Committee,
I strongly believe members of Congress must continue to
exercise this freedom and independence — particularly if
Congress is to effectively perform its oversight role with
regard to U.S. foreign policy.
learning of the newly elected president of Taiwan's one-day
stopover in Los Angeles, I thought it was appropriate and
important to invite members of the House International Relations
Committee and other congressional leaders (many of whom
were in town for the Democratic National Convention) to
meet with President Chen Shui-Bian during his first visit
to the United States as president. Approximately 15 members
of Congress from both sides of the aisle were scheduled
to attend. Taiwan's new leadership, however, under pressure
from Washington and Beijing, chose to make Mr. Chen "unavailable"
for the meeting, which was then canceled.
In the grand scheme of things, a canceled meeting is not
an international crisis. However, it is particularly significant
when one considers the enormous economic, security and political
interests we share with both Taiwan and the People's Republic
of China (PRC). Given recent developments in Taiwan and
relations across the straits, there could not be a more
important time to find opportunities to talk to Taiwan's
leaders about our common agenda. Taiwan's voters went to
the polls in overwhelming numbers last May and elected Mr.
Chen, marking the first party leadership change in Taiwan's
history. Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party had long
advocated that Taiwan declare independence from the mainland,
and as a result, Mr. Chen was clearly the last choice of
China's aging leadership. Defying expectations, Mr. Chen
immediately began to send concrete and meaningful signals
to the PRC that his newly elected government was prepared
to engage in a meaningful dialogue with China.
In these changing times, we in Congress must keep focused
on U.S. policy towards Taiwan. We must find ways to reduce
the threat of war between Taiwan and the PRC, and in particular,
to counteract China's buildup of missiles pointed at Taiwan.
The House of Representatives has already overwhelmingly
approved the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which will
strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship, but this
important bill remains bottled-up in the Senate.
We must also encourage the administration to find meaningful
ways to involve Taiwan in international organizations, to
the benefit of both Taiwan and the international community.
Regrettably, my colleagues and I were not afforded the opportunity
to discuss any of these issues with Mr. Chen last Sunday.
By demanding that Mr. Chen conduct no business in the United
States during his "transit" stop in Los Angeles
on his way to Central America, the United States continues
to cling to its policy of more than 20 years, which prohibits
high-ranking Taiwan leaders from making official visits
to the United States. Consequently, members are forced to
choose whether to rely solely upon indirect assessments
provided by the administration or to travel to Taiwan to
obtain this information firsthand. This is a disservice
not only to members of Congress, but also to the people
we were elected to represent. While members must continue
to work with the administration, it is imperative that we
maintain an informed and independent oversight role.
Members of Congress traveling in Asia routinely visit Taipei
for meetings with senior officials there. It is time we
permit high-ranking Taiwanese officials to come to the United
States to meet with members of Congress and relevant U.S.
government representatives. Given our "unofficial"
relationship with Taiwan, I understand that Mr. Chen cannot
be afforded all the trappings of an official state visit
by a foreign head of state, but certainly we can find some
way to afford Mr. Chen the respect he has earned. Meetings
of this kind would send a strong message to China that the
United States is committed to defending Taiwan and its democracy
in deeds rather than words.
successful elections, which led to a peaceful transition
of power, gave us our strongest signal yet that democracy
in this nation is more than just a passing phase. In light
of these impressive advances, it is high time that the United
States treat our friends in Taiwan with the respect they
Gejdenson is ranking Democratic member of the House International