Taiwan Travel Act was introduced to the US Congress on January 13, 2017. On March 16, 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed this into law.
The bill states that it should be U.S. policy to:
(1) allow U.S. officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts;
(2) permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States under respectful conditions and to meet with U.S. officials, including officials from the Departments of State and Defense; and
(3) encourage the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office and any other instrumentality established by Taiwan to conduct business in the United States.
History of Taiwan’s Travel Issues
Prior to the signing of the Taiwan Travel Act, it has been an unspoken rule that high level Taiwan officials are not allowed and discouraged to visit United States. This was highlighted with events in 1994 and 1995.
In 1994, Taiwan President Lee Teng-Hui had to refuel in Hawaii. Fearful of China’s anger, the US congress denied President Lee a visa. Feeling disgraced, President Lee decided to spend the night on his plane, thus not entering US soil.
Then in 1995, Cornell University, President Lee’s alma mater, invited Lee to speak. Then-president Bill Clinton was reluctant to grant President Lee the visa, but was forced by congress. With a congress resolution that passed the House 396 to 0 with 38 not voting, and the Senate 97 to 1 with 2 not voting, President Lee was granted a visa and was able to speak at his alma mater.
President Lee marked the last time a president from Taiwan has visited USA. Always in fear of China’s anger, US has avoided allowing high level officials meeting.
One incident that broke the silence was in 2016, after President Trump was elected, Taiwan President Tsai called to congratulate Trump on the win. This was the first time since Chiang Kai-Shek that there was direct communication between the leaders of Taiwan and United States.