Sep 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Cruz, Merkley bill seeks to secure Taiwan's inclusion in UN civil aviation body

Side by side photos of Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ted Cruz

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Photos: Joe Raedle; Bonnie Cash via Getty Images.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an unusual bipartisan pairing, are introducing a bill to mandate the Biden administration develop a strategy to try to secure Taiwan's inclusion in the UN body overseeing civil aviation.

Why it matters: The legislation, to be introduced Thursday, is the latest in mounting congressional efforts to raise Taiwan‘s status and protection from China’s threats.

  • It also follows calls this week from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to add Taiwan to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which drew sharp criticism from China.
  • "We believe that all of international civil aviation’s important stakeholders — particularly those who administer critical airspace, like Taiwan — should have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in ICAO’s work," Buttigieg said at the ICAO assembly this week.
  • Taiwan is the fifth largest airport in Asia, and its inclusion in the ICAO would help ensure the safety of travel in the region as China continues to conduct military exercises in the region.

Background: Taiwan's exclusion from the ICAO drew international scrutiny in early 2020, as governments began sharing information about cross-border travel, confirmed COVID-19 cases, and potential flight bans in the early weeks of the pandemic.

  • The ICAO is one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations, which has come under intense pressure from China to block Taiwan's participation in any form.

Between the lines: This isn't a new issue. China has blocked Taiwan's participation in ICAO assemblies since 2013. But Beijing's growing threat to the liberal world order, as well as its support for Russia, has galvanized support for Taiwan in democratic capitals around the world.

Details: The "Ensuring Taiwan Aviation and Safety Act of 2022" calls for ICAO to allow Taiwan to participate in the organization, including the organization's triennial assembly sessions, conferences and working groups.

  • It also calls on the Biden administration to secure a vote at the next ICAO assembly on including Taiwan.

What they're saying: “ICAO can't successfully pursue its mission to ensure aviation safety while excluding Taiwan, which has one of the world’s largest aviation systems," Cruz told Axios. "This exclusion, and the fact that it is the result of bowing to political pressure from the Chinese Communist Party, directly endangers ICAO’s credibility as a multilateral organization.”

  • “The International Civil Aviation Organization helps ensure the safety and security of global aviation,” Merkley said in a statement to Axios.
  • “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in ICAO will enable the organization to do its job better. The United States should use its voice and vote to support Taiwan’s inclusion in ICAO,” Merkley added.

Read the bill.

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