Republican heavyweight Paul Ryan, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is tipped to head a large delegation to Taiwan next week to open the American Institute in Taiwan’s new office compound, meet President Tsai Ing-wen, and attend events to mark the 40th anniversary of the US Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

Ryan currently holds no government position but maintains close connections with the administration of President Donald Trump, having served as the 54th House Speaker from October 2015 to January this year. He was the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, running unsuccessfully alongside Mitt Romney.

The House Speaker is third in line to succeed the president, after the vice-president.

The 26-member delegation will also include congressmen Eddie Bernice Johnson, Don Bacon, Hank Johnson and Salud Carbajal, AIT chairman Jim Moriarty, and a number of other senior officials.

In Taipei, they will take part in a slew of events beginning on Monday, including a ceremony and reception hosted that day at the AIT’s brand-new office compound. The event is titled “TRA and AIT@40: Celebrating 40 Years of Friendship,” and will be followed by AIT’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit on Tuesday.

The exterior of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan. Photo: Handout

This Wednesday, Tsai spoke via video link to three prominent US think-tanks in Washington, and hailed the TRA as a stalwart against persistent coercion from Beijing over the decades. Tsai also had a high-profile transit stop in Hawaii last month.

Shows of support

The upcoming visit will be the latest gesture of support following a flurry of exchanges and interactions between the US and the self-ruled island since Trump’s election victory.

Ryan met Tsai during her transit visit to Miami in 2016, and he vigorously defended her congratulatory call to Trump, then president-elect, later that year, the first time since Jimmy Carter that a US leader had had a direct conversation with a sitting Taiwanese president.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had a direct phone conversation with Donald Trump, then president-elect, in December 2016. Photo: Handout

Under the auspices of the US Congress, Washington has approved two batches of arms sales to Taiwan since 2017 and the island, facing more menacing from Beijing, is seeking to buy 66 F-16V fighter jets, a multibillion-dollar deal that could materialize as soon as July, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry and Taiwan’s representative office in Washington.

Also, the Taiwan Travel Act passed and signed into law by Trump in March 2018 noted that the US president should “conduct regular transfers of defense articles to Taiwan consistent with Taiwan’s national-security requirements in accordance to prior legislation, including the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018.”

Ryan’s visit was announced hot on the heels of Tuesday’s unanimous passing of two resolutions by the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee on reaffirming commitment to Taiwan’s defense and its participation in international organizations. The two bills were to be tabled to the House floor for consideration.

One of the resolutions calls for the US secretary of state to “actively engage internationally in support of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations engaged in addressing transnational threats and challenges such as those related to health, aviation security, and crime and terrorism.”

The TRA, which accorded the island unofficial ties as well as a tacit security guarantee, was signed into law by Carter in April 1979, the same year that the AIT, a de facto US embassy, was established after the White House pulled US diplomats and military personnel out of the island and switched US recognition to the People’s Republic of China.