President Obama supports Taiwan’s ICAO bid

On July 12, President Barack Obama signed Bill HR 1151 expressing American support for Taiwan’s bid to join the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency promoting air safety. According to the Central News Agency, Taiwan’s Transportation Minister Yeh Kuang-shih greeted the news with excitement, saying that “US support is critical to our appeal to join the ICAO as an observer to boost air travel safety.”

Taiwan’s presence is necessary for ICAO to realize its goal of achieving seamless global airspace, Yeh said. Noting that Taiwan maintains air links with 117 countries around the world, Yeh said Taiwan’s exclusion from the ICAO is in conflict with the organization’s efforts to promote flight safety.

With 50 airlines worldwide flying to and from Taiwan, and with more than 30 million international passengers a year, Taiwan needs to be included in the ICAO. Just between the US and Taiwan, there are over 400 flights a week. After reciprocating visa-free status in the last few years, more visitors from the EU, the United States and other major countries are visiting Taiwan as well. With increased visitor numbers, the governments of these countries have more at stake in ensuring flight safety in Taiwan.

The United Daily News reported that Shen Chi, director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, stressed that if Taiwan is allowed to join the ICAO as an observer, it would help the island keep pace with the international civil aviation system, further increasing aviation safety, air traffic control communications and pilot management. Taiwan could then take part in the Conference of Directors General of Civil Aviation, Asia and Pacific Regions to exchange information on traffic flow and flight route management.

Shen said Taiwan has been rejected by the ICAO outright, probably due to political pressure from China. But with more cross-strait interaction in recent years and 616 weekly flights between the two sides, China should face the necessity of Taiwan’s participation in ICAO. Shen said Taiwan’s chances are optimistic with the support of a big aviation country like the US, adding that she hopes the process would start, “The sooner the better.”

Taiwan was an ICAO founding member, but was barred from access to the organization when it lost its UN seat in 1971. As a result of improved relations with Beijing in recent years, Taiwan has managed to take part in the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) – the decision-making arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) – since 2009. Taiwan has also been lobbying to gain greater international support for its participation in the ICAO as an observer in recent years.

Taiwan’s bid for observer status in the ICAO received unanimous legislative backing from the US Senate and House of Representatives in June. After completing Congress administrative procedures, HR 1151 was sent to President Obama to sign into effect, according to Taiwan Today.

The European Parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group chaired by Charles Tannock sent a letter signed by parliamentarians to ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin petitioning them to admit Taiwan as an observer. As of July 7, the petition campaign has collected 79 signatures, representing members from 20 countries. More EP members are expected to add their signatures to the petition after the parliament’s summer break, reported Taiwan Today.

The ICAO assembly is an UN-affiliated organization’s governing body. Its 38th session will be held from September 24 to October 4 in Montreal, Canada. According to the Taipei-based China Times, either the US or the EU would likely take the lead to present the proposal to the General Assembly for a vote on Taiwan’s observer status.

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