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Members and Staff Should See the World, Especially Taiwan | Commentary

With so many problems facing us on the domestic scene and in the Middle East, it’s important to raise questions about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Members of Congress have long been plagued with criticism over foreign travel. Although our problems at home deserve their primary attention, we must not neglect what’s happening elsewhere in the world that at any moment could engulf us in yet another conflict.

I was encouraged when Daniel R. Russel, the new assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in testimony before a Senate panel, put greater emphasis on personal involvement of members in implementing the new rebalancing to Asia initiative.

He made the following statement while answering a question from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.:

“I’m a great believer in the tremendous value of congressional delegations, and I can promise you that the East Asia Pacific bureau and posts will roll out the red carpet and open their doors not only to you, senator, but any member of Congress or any staff member who is willing to take the time to go, because I think it’s very important,” Russel said.

As former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I’m pleased with the recent announcement by President Barack Obama’s administration towards its rebalancing to Asia policy and its significance to the Asia-Pacific region. The shows the great importance of the United States-Asia synergy for our own long-term peace and prosperity.

East Asia continues to be a region of opportunities and challenges.

On the one hand, it has some of the most robust economies in the world. On the other hand, the recent incidents with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the row on territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas suggest that it is a smoldering tinderbox.

The U.S. presence and investment in the relationships with its allies in East Asia have contributed to regional security and prosperity. Balancing the complicated, entangled relationship with China means the United States is even more dependent on its allies.

As principal author and floor manager of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, I want to echo Russel’s statement in encouraging members and staffers in Congress to visit the region. Over the years I served in Congress, I found that one-on-one relationships proved most effective in advancing our interests and in keeping the peace.

Because of the recent tension in the Pacific, no other country has greater importance to America’s interests in the region than Taiwan, our strongest ally.

It’s therefore important that Congress maintains an ongoing dialogue and understanding with Taiwan to enhance this relationship, which is a pillar of American foreign policy in Asia.

Taiwan and the United States share not only common security and economic interests, but also common values of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and market-based economies. Taiwan has become a beacon of democratic practice and a champion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.

When members and staffers visit Taiwan and see for themselves the success it has achieved, they will be encouraged that the values of democracy and the freedom the United States promotes are universally applicable. They will experience first-hand the energy of a robust and relatively new democracy.

Furthermore, as the United States continues to engage with the Chinese government, Taiwan serves as a glowing example of what China can become if it conducts political reform and gives its people the freedoms they deserve.

Democratic former Rep. Lester L. Wolff served New York from 1965 to 1981 and is chairman of the International Trade and Development Agency and a consultant for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.

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