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House resolves to lift restrictions on travel by Taiwan officials

The House of Representatives passed a resolution Monday that recommends the lifting of restrictions on Taiwan’s president and other high-level officials visiting the United States.

Washington is Taiwan’s most important ally. Still, President George W. Bush’s administration, eager to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait, is wary of offending Taiwan’s rival China, a growing economic and military power and a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council.

The United States bars travel by senior Taiwan leaders to Washington and allows only transit stops in other U.S. cities. Frank Hsieh, Taiwan’s ruling party presidential candidate, visited Washington last week. Should he be elected president, however, he could not return.

The congressional resolution says that “lifting these restrictions will help bring a United States friend and ally out of its isolation, which will be beneficial to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.” In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry called the resolution, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Monday, an “interference in China’s internal affairs and extremely mistaken.”

“China strongly opposes this resolution and has already made representations with the U.S. side,” a faxed ministry statement said. It urged the U.S. “not to have any official exchanges in any form” with Taiwan’s leaders in order to maintain good Sino-U.S. relations and protect peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing views the self-ruled island as part of its own territory and opposes anything that might give Taiwan the trappings of sovereignty, even letting its leaders travel the globe freely.

Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian has used U.S. transit stops to meet with U.S. politicians and raise the island’s profile in the American media — part of his efforts to counter Beijing’s efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.

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