Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s geopolitical importance

By Parris Chang 張旭成

For decades Taiwan has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support in the US Congress, no matter what the stance of the executive branch.

In 1979, when then-US president Jimmy Carter established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), derecognized the Republic of China (ROC) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, and terminated the US-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty, Congress enacted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) — over Carter’s objection and amid the PRC’s protest.

The TRA contains provisions committing the US to Taiwan’s security and restoring a semblance of sovereignty to Taiwan’s status.

Specifically, it defines future US commitments to Taiwan’s defense, by mandating that the US provide Taiwan with “such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary” for Taiwan’s defense, by openly declaring an intention to “resist any resort of force” against the people of Taiwan and by putting Beijing on notice that any such use of coercion directed against Taiwan would be a matter of “grave concern to the United States.”

Observers have pointed out that the TRA is the “functional substitute” of the terminated mutual defense treaty.

When former US president Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, Beijing mounted an intense campaign to press the US to end arms sales to Taiwan. Under the guidance of then-US secretary of state Alexander Haig, the US accepted the PRC’s demands in a joint communique in August 1982 that aimed to freeze the quality and quantity of weaponry Taiwan could purchase and gradually reduce US arms sales to Taiwan.

Reagan was outraged, as the communique was in direct violation of the TRA and made huge concessions to the PRC, and thus he dismissed Haig.

Seeking to downplay the inconsistency between the communique and the TRA, Reagan conveyed to Taiwan’s government the “six assurances,” including pledges that the US would not terminate arms sales to Taiwan, would not change the TRA and would not change its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan, meaning that the US would not agree to China’s claim over Taiwan.

It is regrettable that in past decades US administrations, Democratic and Republican, have failed to fully and faithfully implement the provisions of the TRA and the “six assurances” so as to appease Beijing.

It is in this context that from May to June 2016, both chambers of Congress passed a concurrent resolution to reaffirm that the TRA and the “six assurances” are the cornerstone of US-Taiwan relations.

The resolution conveys a strong “sense of Congress” of support to Taiwan, as well as a rebuke to then-US president Barack Obama’s administration.

On July 18, 2016, the US Republican National Convention included, for the first time, the “six assurances” in its official platform.

Calling Taiwan “a loyal friend of America,” the Republican platform also expressed support for the timely sales of defensive arms and technology to build diesel submarines, and Taiwan’s full participation in the WHO, the International Civil Aviation Organization and other international institutions.

In addition to Taiwan’s geopolitical importance, members of Congress recognize and appreciate the democratic values and support for human rights that Taiwan shares with the US.

Hence congressional bills such as the Taiwan Travel Act, the Taiwan Security Act and the National Defense Authorization Act mandate senior military and diplomatic exchanges with Taiwan, US Navy port visits to Taiwan and Taiwanese port visits to the US, and Taiwan’s participation in US naval and air force exercises, and direct the Pentagon to help Taiwan develop an indigenous undersea warfare program and strengthen strategic cooperation with Taiwan.

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