Today marks the 30th anniversary of the US government’s enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
The TRA came into being in 1979 with the purpose of protecting the interests of the people of Taiwan following the decision to switch diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing.
For the three decades since its inception, the TRA has performed that mandate admirably, protecting Taiwan while allowing it to complete a transformation from police state to economic powerhouse and the democratic culture that we see today.
Taiwanese of all shades should be proud of this achievement and grateful for the security that this vital piece of legislation has provided. Without the TRA, the arms sales provisions enshrined in the legislation and the staunch support offered by the US over the decades, it is doubtful that Taiwan would be the success story it is today.
But 30 years on, and with regional circumstances changing rapidly, some have begun to question whether the TRA is still relevant.
The TRA was penned at a time when China was emerging from years of self-imposed international exile, before Beijing started its period of “reform and opening” and before it accumulated the massive wealth and military might it possesses today.
China’s growing clout on the global stage, both economically and diplomatically, and the enthusiasm with which it is adopting the role of challenger to the supremacy of the US have drastically increased the threat to Taiwan’s democracy.
Despite this, the TRA is a document that covers all issues pertinent to Taiwan today and is well equipped to deal with these and future challenges.
Taiwan’s future status, its security, progress in human rights and participation in international organizations are all listed as issues of concern for the US.
The TRA also says that any settlement between Taiwan and China should be reached by peaceful means, and that the US will not consider the use of force against Taiwan to be an internal affair of the People’s Republic of China.
However, there is more to the US-Taiwan security relationship than the TRA can provide.
As the late Harvey Feldman, one of the architects of the TRA, told a forum in November 1998, the effectiveness of the legislation depends on whether the US “acts in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the TRA.”
If it were to do so, Feldman said, “it should return to its former policy of taking no position on Taiwan’s final status … and reiterate the US can accept any solution arrived at peacefully, without coercion, so long as it is acceptable to the people of Taiwan.”
The TRA may not be perfect, but it is an important piece of legislation that has stood the test of time.
Sticking to it will ensure a safe, prosperous and peaceful future for the people of Taiwan. Those in Taiwan who cherish freedom and democracy can only hope that the US will do so for many more years to come.