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US bill calls for military exchanges with Taiwan

US bill calls for military exchanges with Taiwan

SATURDAY, December 10, 2016

In a move that could produce breakthroughs in Washington-Taipei military relations, the US Senate adopted a conference report of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows high-level Pentagon officials to visit Taiwan.

If signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama, Pentagon officials higher than the level of assistant defense secretary would be permitted to visit Taiwan.

The Senate approved the 2017 NDAA in 92-7 vote Thursday after the bill had cleared the House of Representatives last week.

The conference report accompanying the bill calls on the Pentagon to implement a program for exchanges between senior officials and officers from Taiwan and the United States to improve military relations between the two sides.

Exchanges are defined as activities, exercises, events or observation opportunities between Taiwan and U.S. military officials.

The report said the focus of the exchanges should be on seven areas: threat analysis; military doctrine; troops planning; logistical support; intelligence gathering and analysis; operational strategies, techniques and procedures; and humanitarian aid and disaster relief.  

The report defines "senior officers" as active military personnel, and "senior Pentagon officials" as those on the level of assistant defense secretary and higher.

U.S. State Department officials handling less sensitive matters, such as international organizations and commerce, have visited Taiwan. But senior U.S. military officials have never visited Taiwan since the two countries severed diplomatic ties in 1979.

The United Evening New cited unnamed sources who noted it was "very unlikely" that the U.S. president would block a bill that had the overwhelming support of Congress. 

Observers said the bill carried great symbolic meaning but that it remained to be seen whether U.S.-Taiwan military exchanges would truly see breakthroughs. 

The U.S. military has regularly sent personnel to observe Taiwan’s annual military drills, but the observation teams have been led by retired generals.
It is uncertain whether the bill will bring about changes to the formation of the observing teams.
And it is also uncertain to what extent President-elect Donald Trump will implement the suggestions in the bill after taking office.
Earlier this month when the NDAA conference report was released, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it welcomed the call for military exchanges between the two countries.

The ministry’s spokeswoman, Eleanor Wang, said Taiwan appreciated the U.S. Congress’ continued efforts to improve Taipei-Washington ties, and to promote bilateral cooperation and exchanges in military affairs.