The Taiwan Relations Act has provided for stability in US-Taiwan relations while allowing for enough ambiguity to keep Beijing at bay.
The News Lens
By: Jacques deLisle
The United States Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) will mark its 40th anniversary in April 2019. Enacted amid the normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Washington’s acquiescence in Beijing’s requirement that the U.S. sever diplomatic relations and terminate a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), the TRA has been a durable and effective foundation for American policy. Although the law and the policies it embodies and reinforces offend China, the TRA has fostered stability in U.S. policy toward Taiwan and cross-Strait relations and, in turn, regional security. It has done so in three principal ways.
First, the TRA has provided functional replacements for what Taipei lost when Washington ended formal ties and the security pact in 1979. Mundanely, the law established pragmatic substitutes for the legal and diplomatic rights and relations that the ROC had possessed and otherwise would have lost. The TRA directed that Taiwan would continue to be treated in U.S. law largely as if it were a state, and the ROC regime as if it were the government of a recognized state. It provided for Taiwan and the U.S. to maintain the near-equivalent of embassies, consulates, and regional bureaus within foreign ministries, and for Taiwan to enjoy sovereign immunity, continued participation in international agreements and institutions, and other state-like powers and responsibilities under U.S. law.
Credit: Taiwan Presidential OfficeTsai Ing-wen makes an unprecedented phone call to US President Donald Trump.
Symbolically, the TRA’s mandate of this “as if” status for Taiwan signaled ongoing U.S. support for Taiwan’s robust, state-like standing in the world, mitigating perils posed by the inexorable trend of countries shifting diplomatic ties and recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The TRA became an early and important element in Taiwan’s now long-running strategy of seeking security through acquiring as much of the stature and attributes of statehood as it can get, without crossing Beijing’s redline by asserting full-fledged de jure independence.
Strategically, the TRA included a specific commitment – albeit one vesting discretion in the President – to sell arms to Taiwan, and a broader assurance that the U.S. rejected China’s use of coercive means to achieve unification of Taiwan. Ironically, the TRA’s assertion of U.S. interest in the human rights of the people of Taiwan – an expression of Carter-era U.S. foreign policy that was a rebuke and warning to the authoritarian Kuomintang regime – soon resonated with a key basis for post-democratization Taiwan’s maintaining U.S. support and garnering international stature by playing the “values card,” especially in the post-Cold War era. [FULL STORY]