U.S. House bill seeks to recognize AIT director as ambassador (update) - Focus Taiwan

U.S. House bill seeks to recognize AIT director as ambassador (update)

The building of a new office compound for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) CNA file photo
The building of a new office compound for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) CNA file photo

Washington, Dec. 23 (CNA) A bill being proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would require directors of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to receive confirmation in the Senate and be given the rank and status of an ambassador-at-large.

The "Taiwan Envoy Act," which is being sponsored by Ohio Republican Steve Chabot and California Democrat Brad Sherman, cites the position's ambassador-level importance by noting that "an extended period without a director...would be detrimental to United States interests."

While U.S. ambassadors are confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate, the AIT director is appointed, without Congressional approval, by the Secretary of State, given the institute's unofficial status.

The Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), a U.S.-based group that advocates for Taiwan independence, issued a statement on Monday praising the legislation.

"Congress has the right to oversee U.S.-Taiwan relations through such a confirmation process," said FAPA President Mike Kuo (郭正光), adding that the AIT director already "acts, talks and walks like an ambassador."

With the House currently in recess until Jan. 7, however, the bill will have to wait before it can be assigned to a committee.

A bill proposing a similar provision was introduced in 2007 by Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, but it failed to make it through the committee process.

According to the State Department, U.S. presidents have appointed a total of 61 ambassadors-at-large since the position's creation in 1949. Typically, they have dealt with specific foreign policy issues spelled out in their commissions.

The two current ambassadors-at-large are John C. Richmond, who leads U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking, and former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, in the area of international religious freedom.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) thanked Chabot and Sherman for their support for Taiwan and looked forward to following the bill's progress.

"We will closely monitor the deliberation and the subsequent development of the proposed act," MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said in a statement Tuesday, Taipei time.

Ou cited the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump's frequent affirmation of the Taiwan Relations Act and recent arms sales by the U.S. to Taiwan as proof of good Taiwan-U.S. relations, and said Taiwan will continue to deepen the partnership with the U.S. in every field.

(By Stacy Hsu, Matthew Mazzetta and Emerson Lim)

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