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U.S. president signs Taiwan Travel Act

Washington, March 16 (CNA) U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday signed the Taiwan Travel Act, a bill that encourages visits between government officials of the United States and Taiwan at all levels, despite strong opposition from China.

The Taiwan Travel Act (H.R. 535) was among five bills that President Trump signed into law on Friday, according to a White House statement that day. The bill was presented to Trump on March 5, after clearing the House of Representatives on Jan. 9 and the Senate on Feb. 28 with unanimous support.

Based on U.S. legislative rules, the bill becomes law as soon as it is signed by the president. Even if he had not signed it, it would have automatically become law 10 days after it was presented to him, excluding Sundays. Only if Trump vetoes the bill would it have been struck down, but by convention, U.S. presidents rarely veto a bill that was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House.

Some experts had predicted that Trump would choose to let the bill go into effect without signing it, in face of strong opposition from Beijing. The fact that Trump has signed it sends a clearer message of the White House's support for the bill.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Saturday thanking the United States' executive and legislative branches for their goodwill and support. The ministry said it will continue to maintain close communications with the United States and deepen bilateral partnerships in various fields and at all levels.

The Taiwan Travel Act seeks to change a practice that has barred high-ranking Taiwanese officials from direct diplomatic engagement in Washington and senior U.S. officials from visiting Taiwan since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979.

"It is the sense of Congress that the United States government should encourage visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels," the Taiwan Travel Act says. The bill stipulates that it should be the policy of the United States to allow officials at all levels of the U.S. government, including Cabinet-level national security officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts.

It also recommends that the U.S. government allow high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States, under conditions which demonstrate appropriate respect for the dignity of such persons, and to meet with their U.S. counterparts. Though the legislation has no binding effect on the government, it drew firm opposition from Beijing, which said it seriously violated the one-China principle and the three joint communiques that govern China-U.S. relations.

Richard Bush, co-director of the Washington-based Brookings Institution's Center for East Asia Policy Studies, told CNA by e-mail that it is important to understand that the legislation is not binding on the administration.

"The President already has the authority to send senior officials to Taiwan (previous administrations have sent Cabinet-level officials)," said Bush, who is also a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. "What President Trump does is a function of the broader question of how he wants to strengthen U.S.-Taiwan relations," he said.

(By Rita Cheng, Leaf Chiang and Christie Chen) Enditem/cs