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US Democratic congressman Sean Patrick Maloney has said his delegation to China was refused entry to the mainland because it would not cancel a visit to the self-ruled island of Taiwan. Photo: Reuters

Beijing used ‘visa blackmail’ to try and stop Taiwan visit, US congressman claims

  • Leader of bipartisan congressional delegation says visas to mainland denied because group refused to cancel Taiwan visit

China has been accused of “visa blackmail” by the leader of a US congressional delegation that was reportedly denied entry to the mainland because it also planned to visit Taiwan.

Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney said in an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that Beijing had taken the “extraordinary step” of denying visas to the bipartisan delegation earlier this month “for one reason only” – the group’s planned visit to Taiwan.

Maloney said Chinese officials had informed his staff on multiple occasions that he would be granted a visa only if the Taiwan trip was cancelled. They then demanded he endorse the one-China policy which says Taiwan is a part of China.

“This is visa blackmail, designed to staunch the long-standing tradition of robust US congressional engagement with Taiwan, which is especially critical given the executive branch’s self-imposed limit on official travel,” Maloney wrote. “Ham-handed and obtusely enforced pressure campaigns, such as the one targeting my delegation, will invigorate congressional support for Taiwan.”

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The Chinese embassy in Washington and Maloney’s press secretary did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Beijing – which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has not ruled out force to bring it back into the mainland fold – has repeatedly said that efforts to divide China and the areas it claims cross its “red lines”. Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on Sunday, while visiting Nepal, that anyone attempting to “split China” would end with “crushed bodies and shattered bones”.

Washington has incurred Beijing’s displeasure by stepping up its engagement with Taipei at a time when strategic rivalries between China and the US have intensified beyond their drawn-out trade war to include clashes on numerous other fronts – including US arms sales to Taiwan and conflicting interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing has also been ramping up pressure on Taipei by poaching two more of its diplomatic allies in the Pacific, just months before the self-ruled island goes to the polls in January for a critical presidential election.

Maloney visited Taiwan on October 7 and met President Tsai Ing-wen, who called for stronger relations between Washington and Taipei, according to a press release issued by Taiwan’s presidential office.

Tsai also thanked Maloney for his co-sponsorship of the Taiwan Travel Act, which was passed in March last year and encourages more high-level exchanges between Washington and Taipei officials.

Maloney said on Sunday he would explore ways for Congress to reinforce US support for Taiwan in the coming months, as part of Washington’s “moral imperative” to stand up to Beijing. He referenced the growing furore in the US over Chinese pressure on American businesses – including the National Basketball Association and Apple – to avoid politically sensitive topics in China to retain access to the world’s second-biggest economy.

“US companies, increasingly reliant on the Chinese market, are then forced to choose between their bottom lines and core American values,” Maloney said. “They often accede to China’s demands.”

Jonathan Sullivan, associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham, said bipartisan support for Taiwan had become more vocal as US relations with China deteriorated.

Sullivan said Beijing was probably trying to avoid encouraging any visit to Taiwan by a high-level US delegation and the support it would give to Tsai before the island’s election.

“From Beijing’s perspective, now is not good timing for demonstrations of support for the Tsai administration, which Beijing is dearly hoping will not secure a second term, and is pursuing a number of different means to stop happening,” Sullivan said. “That I suspect is the proximate cause, but the wider environment is also making Beijing extra-sensitive – the trade war, and escalating situation in Hong Kong.”

He said using access to mainland China as leverage against the US could backfire, since members of Congress “do not like being told what they can and can’t do by a foreign power”.