Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Paal doesn't understand the TRA

By James Wang 王景弘

In 1979, the US Congress enacted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to replace the Sino-US Mutual Defense Treaty in order to safeguard Taiwan's security and to preserve and promote commercial, cultural and other relations between the two countries. Over the past 25 years, the TRA has been cited as the legal basis for guaranteeing Taiwan's interests.

Unfortunately, in the middle of a movement pushing for a referendum in Taiwan, American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal has cited the TRA as a basis for restraining human rights and democracy in Taiwan. Paal has not only interpreted the TRA out of context but also seriously distorted it. This is incompatible with both the text and the spirit of the TRA.

"What the referendums are used for and what effects they have on the regional situation is a matter of concern to us. Our congress has declared its interest in regional stability through the TRA," Paal said in an interview published in the August issue of Topics -- the magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.

In fact, without the TRA, the US government can still express its concern for stability in the Western Pacific region. Without the TRA, the US can still say that stability in the Western Pacific is in the interests of the US. By citing the TRA, Paal was probably prescribing the wrong remedy for an illness, as a Chinese saying goes.

First of all, in view of the TRA's spirit, the purpose of the bill is to deter and prevent China from annexing Taiwan by non-peaceful means. Before the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, the two sides still had the Sino-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which prevented China from attacking Taiwan and prevented then-president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) from staging a surprise military attack against China.

Taiwan's security was guaranteed by the US. After diplomatic relations were severed, the Omnibus Bill sent to the US Congress by the Jimmy Carter administration in January 1979 angered many Congress members because it ignored the issue of Taiwan's security entirely. Congress decided to revise the draft bill and eventually came up with the TRA, with powerful defensive articles stipulated in an effort to replace the abolished mutual defense treaty. Obviously, the purpose of the act is to deal with a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, not to restrain Taiwan from attacking China by force.

Second, in terms of the TRA's text, the law clearly states that "the enactment of this act is necessary to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific area."

Section 2 of the law also states, "Peace and stability in the area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the US, and are matters of international concern."

Paal was probably referring to this article in his comments on the TRA. But he only mentioned stability, not peace, during the interview. The claim that a referendum in Taiwan may damage stability contravenes the purpose of the TRA.

Third, while citing the US policies stipulated in the TRA, Paal surprisingly did not pay attention to Paragraph (c) of Section 2, which states, "Nothing contained in this act shall contravene the interest of the US in human rights, especially with respect to the human rights of all the approximately 18 million inhabitants of Taiwan. The preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people in Taiwan are hereby reaffirmed as objectives of the US."

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