Sat, Apr 13, 2019 - Page 8 News List

US must add more teeth to the TRA

By Manik Mehta

Not many Americans know Taiwan’s location, they might confuse its moniker the Republic of China (ROC) with China and some might even respond by saying that they love “Thai food” when asked if they have heard about Taiwan.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that only a few with exposure to the geopolitics of the region know about the existence of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which is turning 40 this year and has guided US policy toward Taiwan and cross-strait relations.

Tracing the genesis of the TRA is a historic journey going back 40 years after Washington took that fateful decision to formally terminate its diplomatic ties and a mutual defense agreement with Taiwan as it rushed to open what was then euphorically called a “historic relationship” with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

On Dec. 15, 1978, then-US president Jimmy Carter announced that Washington would terminate diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the ROC, and instead formally recognize China, the PRC.

The news shocked and saddened many Taiwanese, plunging the nation into gloom and despair. People felt betrayed and worried about an increasingly uncertain future, but the news also hardened Taiwanese resolve to survive despite the odds and work toward what later became known as its “economic miracle.”

The resolve of Taiwanese was strengthened by the TRA. Enacted in 1979 by the US Congress, which was dissatisfied with the reckless manner in which the Carter administration had handled the issue of normalizing relations with China, the TRA has now guided US-Taiwan relations for four decades — a feat few could have anticipated then.

A recent panel discussion at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, in conjunction with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, highlighted some of the challenges faced by the TRA-centered framework for US policy amid new pressures from Beijing, including what US experts describe as the “cold confrontation” against President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration, as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) aggressively pressures Taiwan to unify with China.

The prominent panelists included Jerome Cohen, professor of law at the New York University School of Law and senior fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; June Teufel Dreyer, professor of political science at the University of Miami; Shelley Rigger, professor of East Asian Politics at Davidson College; Jacques deLisle, director of the Foreign Policy Institute’s Asia Program; and Russell Hsiao (蕭良其), executive director of Global Taiwan Institute and a Penn Kemble fellow.

The discussion, under the title “Taiwan Relations Act at 40: An Enduring Framework for US-Taiwan Relations,” provided some out-of-the-box ideas for Taiwan to assert its international status.

One such idea was to switch from the widespread use of the prefix “Taipei” in foreign representations to “Taiwan.”

“Taipei,” which does not reflect the republic’s international identity, was conceived when Taiwan joined APEC as a compromise to placate China. Americans would not mind the switchover from “Taipei” to “Taiwan.” After all, China has no locus standi in determining the nomenclature of Taiwan’s representation on sovereign US soil.

The Taiwan Travel Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, signed last year by US President Donald Trump, reflect the US’ desire not only to forge a stronger relationship with Taiwan, but also send a signal to the world to upgrade its ties with the nation.

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