White House says no decision yet on whether to sign US-Taiwan travel bill

US President Donald Trump departs after attending a Friends of Ireland event at the US Capitol in Washington on March 15, 2018.
US President Donald Trump departs after attending a Friends of Ireland event at the US Capitol in Washington on March 15, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump has not decided whether he will sign legislation that would allow US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts, the White House said, as China repeated its opposition.

The legislation, approved by both chambers of the US Congress, has angered China, which regularly calls self-ruled Taiwan the most sensitive issue in Sino-US ties.

China regards the island as a wayward Chinese province with no right to state-to-state relations.

"A final decision hasn't been made. We'll keep you guys posted," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters during a briefing on Thursday (March 15).

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated China's anger over the legislation.

"We have said before, China is strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed, and has already lodged stern representations with the US side," he told reporters.

Mr Lu urged the United States to abide by the "one China" policy and cease official exchanges with Taiwan.

If Mr Trump does not veto it, the bill will become law at 12.01am on Saturday (12.01pm Singapore time) even if he does not sign it, congressional aides said.

Mr Douglas Paal, a White House official under Republican administrations who served as US representative to Taiwan from 2002 to 2006, said the legislation did not change anything real as it was non-binding on the administration.

The administration also has the discretionary authority to permit visits by senior Taiwan officials and visits by senior US officials and military officers to Taiwan, he added.

"They don't authorise these trips because the policy judgement is that the costs in relations with China would outweigh the benefits in relations with Taiwan," Mr Paal said.

The United States is already bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and is the island's most important arms supplier.

China's hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, in 2016.

It suspects that Ms Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for ruling Communist Party leaders in Beijing, although Ms Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists.