On March 16, 2018, President Trump signed H.R.535, the “Taiwan Travel Act” into law, after the bill passed the House of Representatives by a voice-vote and the Senate with unanimous consent. The legislation was authored by Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH), and it allows and encourages the US government to send officials to Taiwan to meet with their counterparts, while also allowing Taiwanese officials to have official contacts and visits in the United States.
Since 1979, when President Carter established full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, official contacts between the two countries were limited to mid and low-level officials out of respect for China’s “One China Policy”, an official policy that urges the international community to recognize that Taiwan is simply a resistant Chinese province rather than a separate country. The Taiwanese president, vice president, prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister, as well as their American equivalents, have traditionally been forbidden to have contact or travel to the other’s nation (The Diplomat).
Only six US cabinet-level officials have visited Taiwan, with former-Environmental Protection Agency Director Gina McCarthy visiting in 2014. Taiwanese Presidents have been allowed one or two day “layovers” in the United States, but these are firmly not considered diplomatic visits (The Economist).
In response, China has threatened to increase military “counter moves” near and around Taiwan (CNBC).
Some experts fear that the Chinese might really undertake military action to conquer what it considers a “renegade province” in a similar manner to Russia’s conquest of Crimea. China has already taken diplomatically aggressive action within the past year, isolating Taiwan by using its economic pressure to encourage smaller countries to de-recognize Taiwan (The Guardian).
In the context of a growing trade conflict between China and the United States, some fear that the law could do irreparable harm to Sino-US relations. The Chinese government considers territory-related issues a “third rail” of its international relations policy, and it believes that recognition of Taiwan as a free and independent country could encourage uprisings in restive provinces like Hong Kong, Tibet, or Inner-Mongolia (CNN).