On Dec. 16, 1978, US president Jimmy Carter announced to the world that Washington would recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and establish formal diplomatic relations, effective Jan. 1, 1979. At the insistence of the PRC, the US government terminated its diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC) and unilaterally nullified the US-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty.
Believing that the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the US and the PRC should not be allowed to adversely affect existing de facto relations between the US and Taiwan, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on Apr. 10, 1979, as the legal basis for future US-Taiwan relations.
The TRA is a very special item of US domestic legislation. Since its enactment in 1979, it has played a vital role in consolidating US-Taiwan relations and preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. With regard to maintaining Taiwan’s national security, the TRA obliges US governments to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons and states that the US will view with grave concern any effort to determine Taiwan’s future by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, and will consider any such action to be a threat to the peace and security of the western Pacific region.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and the PRC was a great shock for the people of Taiwan, but the TRA provided a stable environment for the island’s economic development, leading to Taiwan’s economic miracle.
The TRA has also facilitated Taiwan’s democratization and localization, through which it has evolved into a sovereign and independent nation neither subordinate to China nor having jurisdiction over it.
Throughout the 30 years that have passed since Carter’s announcement, the US has maintained a policy of “One China, but not now,” founded on the TRA and the three US-China joint communiques.
An important aspect of this policy is the insistence that Taiwan’s future can only be resolved by peaceful means.
Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in May this year, he has broken his election promises and gone against Taiwanese public opinion by moving rapidly in the direction of unification with his policy of leaning heavily toward China.
He has abandoned his predecessors’ positions of “state-to-state relations” and “one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait.”
His policies lead toward de-Taiwanization and away from Taiwan’s sovereignty. Stressing the idea that cross-strait relations are more important than diplomatic relations, Ma has called a diplomatic truce with China and seeks to create an illusory atmosphere of peace between the two countries on either side of the Strait.
This may give the international community the false impression that Taiwan is willing to become a part of the PRC.
The Ma government has adopted these pro-China policies with scant regard to the opinions and rights of the public, aiming to sign a peace accord with China that disregards the concerns of other interested parties.
These unilateral actions by Ma threaten to upset the long-standing “status quo” in cross-strait affairs.
What attitude Washington takes in response to these developments in Taiwan is a matter deserving of everyone’s attention.
Chen Lung-chu is president of the Taiwan New Century Foundation.