Fri, Jul 22, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Enhancing ties with US Congress

By Parris Chang 張旭成

The US Congress enacted in the spring of 1979, in the wake of then-US president Jimmy Carter’s move to recognize Beijing and sever official relations with the Republic of China (ROC), the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which Carter was politically compelled to sign. The TRA is unique in diplomatic history, as it is a domestic US law, but governs US relations with Taiwan and China.

It mandates the US “to provide Taiwan with arms of defensive character” by committing the US to Taiwan’s security and restores a semblance of sovereignty to Taiwan’s status. It also openly declares an intention to “resist any resort to force” against the people of Taiwan and puts Beijing on notice that any use of coercion to change Taiwan’s status would be a matter “of grave concern to the United States.”

In a real sense, the TRA is very much a “function substitute” for the US-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty, which came into force in 1955, but had to be terminated at the end of 1979 at Beijing’s demand, as it incorporated in substance the same protective relationship the US had maintained with Taiwan since the 1950s.

In recent years, there has been an alarming tendency by officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama to disregard provisions in the TRA, especially with reference to Taiwan’s defense, in obvious submission to Beijing’s persistent lobbying and threats.

William Bader, a former chief of staff of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, decried the fact that the Obama administration had “shown little to no knowledge or real interest” in the TRA.

Former US Department of State and US Department of Defense official Randall Shriver also complained in a congressional hearing last month that the Obama administration did not have high enough aspirations for Taiwan and castigated it for having severely neglected US responsibilities under the TRA to provide arms to Taipei and help Taiwan meet its defense needs.

Whereas the TRA clearly stipulates the US’ obligation to provide Taiwan with “such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary” for Taiwan’s defense, concern over China’s reaction has prevented the Obama administration from moving forward on Taiwan’s repeated requests for the sale of F-16C/D aircraft and submarines.

It is in such a context that US Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives, told a special hearing titled “Why Taiwan Matters” on June 16 that she would soon introduce new legislation “to enhance the Taiwan Relations Act.”

Ros-Lehtinen stated emphatically: “It is strongly in America’s national interest to re-energize and upgrade relations between our two peoples.”

In a wide-ranging speech delivered in Los Angeles on June 11, Ros-Lehtinen said that it was long overdue for Obama to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan and to work to improve relations with Taiwan, a great beacon of democracy in East Asia and an important US ally. She warned that the military balance across the Taiwan Strait continued to shift in favor of China, while Taiwan’s defense spending has been cut below 3 percent of GDP under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

She is apprehensive that Taiwan appears to have become an afterthought in the Obama adminisration’s larger aims of engagement with China and there is “a new spirit of appeasement in the air.”

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