Given the increasingly dangerous and fluid situation in the Taiwan Strait, on the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) it is important to remind US President Barack Obama and Congress to reaffirm the spirit and letter of the TRA both in word and deed.
On Dec. 15, 1978, then-US president Jimmy Carter announced his decision to normalize relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and de-recognize Taiwan. It was expected that Taiwan would then seek an accommodation with the PRC.
Congress was incensed that the administration would abandon a longtime ally without providing any security commitment, so it drafted and passed the TRA with an overwhelming majority. The act was signed into law on April 10, 1979.
The TRA declares that the preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are objectives of the US. To continue commercial, cultural and other relations with Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan, a de facto embassy, was established. The Act provides for Taiwan to be treated under US laws the same as a foreign country. It covers Taiwan and Penghu only and does not apply to Kinmen and Matsu.
The security provisions in Section 2(b) of the TRA are of the utmost importance and worth reiteration:
“It is the policy of the United States ... to declare that peace and stability in the area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the United States, and are matters of international concern; to make clear that the United States’ decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means; to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States; to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”
The TRA is a unique US domestic law that governs foreign policy. It blends US interests and values. The wisdom of Congress in crafting the act 30 years ago is commendable.
Under the protective umbrella of the TRA, Taiwan was able to achieve its economic miracle. In 1979 Taiwan’s annual per capita GDP was US$1,300. That figure is now US$17,000, a 13-fold increase. Taiwan’s GDP ranks twenty-first in the world. Taiwan is the world’s largest producer of computer components and is rapidly moving into the production of telecommunications equipment. Taiwan acts as a crossroads on the global high-tech market supply chain.
With aid and encouragement from the US, Taiwan has also peacefully transformed itself from a one-party dictatorship into a democracy, holding its first popular presidential election in 1996 and peacefully transferring power in 2000 and last year. Taiwan’s democracy is a beacon to other societies seeking peaceful political liberalization.
On March 24, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming Congress’ unwavering commitment to the TRA.
Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “I am confident that the Taiwan Relations Act will remain the cornerstone of our relationship with Taiwan.”