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Trump unlikely to authorize U.S.-Taiwan navy port calls: scholars

2017/12/13 17:18:10

United States President Donald Trump/CNA file photo

Washington, Dec. 12 (CNA) Although United States President Donald Trump has signed into law a defense policy bill, which includes clauses that would facilitate port calls between the U.S. navy and the Taiwan navy, several U.S. experts on Taiwan affairs have said it is unlikely the president will allow such visits in practice.

Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at the White House on Tuesday before later releasing a statement on the bill that authorizes appropriations for the administration's national security programs in fiscal year 2018.

On the Taiwan issue, several provisions in the bill call for the strengthening of the defense partnership with Taiwan, including suggestions that Taiwanese military forces be invited to participate in military exercises, such as the "Red Flag" exercises.

It also asks the U.S. government to consider the advisability and feasibility of re-establishing port of call exchanges between the two sides.

In his statement, Trump mentioned that some provisions, including section 1259, "could potentially dictate the position of the United States in external military and foreign affairs and, in certain instances, direct the conduct of international diplomacy."

"My administration will treat these provisions consistent with the president's exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs to determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign sovereigns and conduct the nation's diplomacy. "

Asked if this implies the Trump administration won't put into practice the provision on port calls, former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Richard Bush told CNA that concerning the most sensitive items in the bill (for example port calls), the law does not impose a binding order on President Trump to do these things.

"Everything is offered as the sense of Congress," said Bush, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggesting Trump is not obliged to execute the provisions.

Douglas Paal, who was on the National Security Councils staff of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush from 1986-1993 as director of Asian affairs, said he expects the Trump administration to treat the NDAA's "legislative exhortations" carefully, "basing decisions on the executive branch's jealous regard for its constitutionally exclusive right to manage foreign relations."

"In that regard, the administration will consider the NDAA's advocacy in the overall context of American foreign policy, including with China, where the U.S. long ago agreed to end official relations with Taiwan while maintaining substantive links," said Paal.

Asked the same question, Walter Lohman, head of the Asian Studies Center under the Heritage Foundation, who is currently on a visit to Taiwan, appeared more optimistic. He told CNA via e-mail that what Trump says in his statement "doesn't necessarily mean he won't do the things Congress is recommending."

"It means it is up to him, as president of the United States, to decide. Any president would say the same. Still, though, it is important for Congress to be heard. It expresses a political consensus on U.S.-Taiwan relations that the president must bear in mind," Lohman said.

The defense bill has upset Beijing because of provisions that could expand formal exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring under its control.

The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by the Taiwan Relations Act and "Six Assurances" to help it defend itself and is the island's main source of arms.

(By Rita Cheng and Elizabeth Hsu)