Tue, Apr 14, 2009 - Page 8 News List

TRA faces challenges under Ma government

By Lo Chih-cheng 羅致政

April 10 marked 30 years since the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) came into law. The TRA is an important US law that regulates US relations with Taiwan. For a long time, it has also been an important part of US cross-strait policy. However, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) accession to power has brought changes to cross-strait relations that pose a challenge to the TRA.

One of the key goals of the TRA is to guarantee peace, security and stability and to provide a promise and legal foundation to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons. The law states that it is the policy of the US “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.”

The problem is that China’s goal and the heart of the Ma administration’s China policies consist of appearing to strive for peace, security and stability while in fact slowly pushing toward unification.

These peaceful changes to the “status quo” and gradual movement toward unification are creating a situation that is difficult to deal with based on the TRA, since these changes sidestep the expression “other than peaceful means.”

If, for example, Taiwan and China signed a peace agreement, the TRA’s promise to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons would be called into question. In the same way, Ma’s policy of prioritizing cross-strait relations above foreign relations — including relations with the US — means that Taiwan is all but certain to restrict its relations with the US because of government fears of how Beijing would react if the US wants to remain faithful to the TRA and perhaps even strengthen US-Taiwan relations.

If there have been concerns in the past few years over whether the US would remain faithful to the TRA, Ma’s accession to power means that the greatest challenge to the TRA now is whether Taiwan hopes for or is willing to lobby for active implementation of the TRA.

The Ma administration has said it hopes to develop both cross-strait relations and Taiwan-US relations. But a crucial issue that cannot be ignored — and one that China will force Taiwan to deal with — is what the Ma administration would do if it became necessary to make a zero-sum choice between cross-strait relations and US-Taiwan relations. The government’s priority seems clear.

Thirty years after the TRA was enacted, we are faced with unprecedented changes to the cross-strait situation. Washington no longer needs to consider how to implement the TRA; rather, it must consider how it would react if Taipei and Beijing jointly requested that the US weaken or abolish the TRA.

Lo Chih-cheng is an assistant professor of political science at Soochow University and the secretary-general of the Taiwan Society.

TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON

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