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International relations

US senators seek punishment for nations cutting Taiwan ties

Proposed legislation would downgrade US relations with diplomatic defectors

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen infuriated China with a visit to the U.S. last month.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- In a show of support to Taiwan, U.S. senators are proposing legislation that would punish countries that choose to drop diplomatic recognition of the self-governed island to please the authorities in Beijing.

The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative, or TAIPEI Act, was introduced this week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. If passed, it would give the State Department the authority to suspend foreign assistance to, and downgrade, U.S. diplomatic relations with countries that choose to recognize China's claim of sovereignty over the territory of Taiwan.

"The United States will use every tool to support Taiwan's standing on the international stage," one of the bill's sponsors, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, said in a statement on his website Wednesday.

"This bipartisan legislation demands a whole-of-government approach to stand up to China's bullying tactics against Taiwan, and will send a strong message to those nations considering siding with China over Taiwan that there will be consequences for such actions," Gardner said.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has been actively engaged in a campaign to isolate it diplomatically.

Since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan has been bleeding allies, losing the support of Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Gardner, who was also chairing the meeting, noted the introduction of the TAIPEI Act and asked the experts testifying to weigh in on how the U.S. should view China's movement against Taiwan.

According to Oriana Mastro, a visiting scholar at the Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute, Beijing's ideal goal is a peaceful reunification with Taiwan.

"The bottom line is that China is prepared and is going to be willing to use force if they have to for that reunification," Mastro said at the hearing in Washington. "But they want to do it peacefully in the meantime."

If the U.S. wants to signal that it stands by Taiwan and counter Chinese coercion, "the United States has to be willing to either impose costs on those countries ... or provide certain benefits or positive inducements" for sticking with Taipei, she said.

Also testifying at the hearing, Abraham Denmark, Asia program director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said that China's potential to use force depends on whether Chinese leaders continue to make progress toward that reunification peacefully and whether they believe that military action is likely to fail.

To help Taiwan, Washington's policies must go beyond symbolic action, Denmark said. "What often happens, and what I would hope to avoid, is symbolic gestures that feel good for a bit to help Taiwan but ultimately drive a Chinese response that doesn't hurt the United States substantially, but hurts Taiwan."

Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law, encouraging visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan and vice versa -- a move which greatly angered China.

Last month, Tsai made a transit stop in the U.S. and became the first Taiwanese leader to speak publicly in the country in 15 years, despite Chinese protests. China convinced El Salvador to sever its ties with Taiwan the next week.

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