Recent developments in cross-strait relations, including expanded economic ties and a lessening of tensions, have lulled many in Taiwan into what may be a false sense of security. Vigilance is most often needed just at the point when one is tempted to let down one’s guard.
Taiwan has struggled for the past 60 years to achieve democracy, expand human rights and codify the rule of law. In doing so, it has emerged as an irreplaceable beacon of liberty for all within the Chinese cultural world and especially for those in communist China. Taiwan calls out to those Chinese yearning to breathe free. It also stands as an irrefutable answer to those who insist that authoritarianism in Beijing is the only way, because democratic values conflict with Chinese culture. The world, in short, needs Taiwan, especially as China rises.
I have been a stalwart defender of Taiwan and a proponent of vigorous adherence to the US’ Taiwan Relations Act, the cornerstone of Taiwan-US relations, ever since I first came to Congress over two decades ago. The Taiwan Relations Act has served to preserve Taiwanese identity through all of the cross-strait crises of the past 30 years. With the mutual commitment of the peoples of Taiwan and the US, it will continue to do so for decades to come.
I have introduced legislation in the current Congress to ensure the stipulation in the Taiwan Relations Act that Congress be a full partner in determining Taiwan’s defensive needs is fully adhered to. This can only be achieved by requiring regular consultations with the US State Department and Department of Defense on arms sales to Taiwan. Such Congressional oversight was standard operating procedure in the first decades after enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, but has fallen into disuse over the past decade.
Recent press reports of an alleged freeze on arms sales to Taiwan, so as not to cause consternation in Beijing, is a cause of concern for all friends of Taiwan in the US. Former US president Ronald Reagan’s Six Assurances in 1982 expressly forbade any prior consultation with the Chinese Communist Party regime on such arms sales. The clearest means for the current administration in Washington to demonstrate that it is not kowtowing to Beijing on Taiwan’s security needs would be to make available to Taiwan’s Air Force the next generation of F-16 fighters, an action which I have long advocated.
While Taiwanese need to maintain vigilance to ensure they are not taken in by any wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, Washington can also ill afford to neglect the security of the Western Pacific. Recent crises, both domestic and foreign, have caused many in the US to avert their eyes from the continued political and economic developments taking place across the Pacific.
The recent torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel by North Korea, however, served as a grim reminder that the Asia Pacific region, while emerging as the global economic hub, remains nonetheless a dangerous place. When Chinese missiles were fired over Taiwan more than a decade ago, the US fleet, including an aircraft carrier, was sent to reaffirm US commitment to regional stability. Now another US aircraft carrier should be dispatched on a similar mission to South Korean waters.
In this century of a rising Asia, the US can ill afford to cede political and economic influence in this vital region. That is why I have remained a firm advocate for swift Congressional action to ratify the free-trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea and that is why I have given equal voice to the need for the US Trade Representative to open, as soon as possible, discussions on a similar FTA with our friends in Taiwan.
Taiwan remains the sixth-largest market for US agricultural products and our 10th-largest trading partner. In other words, there is no way to go but up in expanding US-Taiwan trade relations, given the common values of two free-market economies with mutual respect for the rule of law. A Taiwan-US FTA would also further cement the close friendship that has existed between our two peoples for the past 60 years. The time has come. The time is now.
Countless ties bind the people and governments of Taiwan and the US. The alliance which has flourished under the Taiwan Relations Act will grow even stronger with a renewed commitment to its principles and to peace and stability in the Western Pacific.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a ranking Republican on the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
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