US House votes to overturn some Taiwan restrictions
WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) The US House of Representatives today voted to lift some decades-old restrictions limiting contacts American government officials can have with Taiwan.
With little debate, the House approved the measure in an amendment to a funding bill for the State Department. The bill has not yet been considered by the Senate, which must also approve the changes.
Any easing of restrictions was expected to be strongly opposed by China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province and works to limit any formal links between the island and Washington.
A spokesman at China's embassy in Washington said: ''We hope the U.S. government will abide by the one-China policy.'' Under that policy Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Rep. Thomas Tancredo, the conservative Colorado Republican who pushed the amendment through the House, said: ''These guidelines needlessly complicate our ability to effectively communicate with our friends in Taiwan.'' The amendment did not address other restrictions in place since 1979 limiting visits by Taiwanese officials to the United States.
It would end State Department restrictions, in place since the United States established diplomatic relations with mainland China, that prevent high-ranking American military officers from traveling to Taiwan.
Also prohibited now are meetings between civilian U.S. and Taiwanese officials in certain government buildings, such as the White House and State Department.
Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who is an outspoken critic of Beijing's human rights policy, said, ''There are 40 Catholic bishops and priests in jail in China and zero in jail in Taiwan.'' He added that maybe U.S. policy ought to be reversed so that communications restrictions are placed on Beijing instead of Taiwan.
Iris Ho, spokeswoman for the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington, said Wednesday's vote marked a ''historic step in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship'' because it was the first time a chamber of the U.S. Congress voted to overturn the limitations.
''We have so many arcane restrictions from the U.S. side,'' Ho said, that ''impair our ability to have a more balanced viewpoint in the Taiwan Straits.'' She noted that under current U.S. regulations, Taiwan government officials cannot send letters to American counterparts using an official letterhead.
The Senate could debate the issue later this summer or in the fall.
Reuters SK VP0145