Big Trouble, Little Taiwan: Why Taipei Is Moving Toward a Confrontation

Washington could play a pivotal role in helping Taipei avoid a war.

The National Interest
Date: April 24, 2019
By: Gary Sands

April 10 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). It was an opportunity not only to reflect on the long history of U.S.-Taiwan relations, but also to consider how well the TRA has stood the test of time. While the TRA, a domestic U.S. law, has played an important role in limiting efforts by Beijing to unify the island with the mainland over the last forty years, China’s military prowess has grown significantly in that time, and now represents a real threat to Taiwan’s de facto existence.

On March 31, two Chinese fighter jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait into Taiwanese air space and refused to retreat for a twelve-minute period after being met by five Taiwanese fighter jets. The intrusion into Taiwanese airspace marked the first time since 1999 that the Chinese military intentionally crossed the median line, which was established in 1955 following the signing of a mutual defense treaty between Taipei and Washington in 1954—the precursor to the Taiwan Relations Act.

History of the Taiwan Relations Act

In the aftermath of defeat of the U.S.-backed Republic of China (ROC) military by Mao Zedong’s communist forces in China’s Civil War, and the retreat of the ROC leader Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist forces to Taiwan in 1949, Washington formally guaranteed the security of the ROC on the island with the signing of the U.S.-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty in 1954, though at the time China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lacked sufficient air and amphibious capabilities to invade the island. The treaty remained in effect until 1980, after President Jimmy Carter officially terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1979.   [FULL  STORY]

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