With a great majority of votes in favor, the US House of Representatives on May 7 passed the Taiwan Assurance Act and House Resolution 273 reaffirming the US’ commitment to Taiwan and to the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
The Taiwan Assurance Act takes a more proactive approach to US-Taiwan official exchanges and interactions than the TRA with regard to military, economic and trade affairs, and Taiwan’s international participation.
According to the TRA, enacted in 1979, the US is to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons to maintain the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait and maintain US-Taiwan economic and trade relations in private sectors after Washington established formal ties with China and in the absence of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
However, the act is intentionally ambiguous on the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty and emphasizes that US-Taiwan exchanges should be non-governmental in nature.
For a long time, the TRA and the Three Joint Communiques between the US and China have been regarded as Washington’s expression of its consistent political stance across party lines to maintain its own interests, while stabilizing the power equilibrium across the Strait.
The Taiwan Assurance Act is regarded as the enhanced version of the TRA. In terms of military affairs, it stipulates that the US should normalize arms sales to Taiwan, include the nation in bilateral and multilateral military training exercises, and even requires a flag or general officer to serve as the US defense attache in Taipei.
On the business front, the US Senate version demands that the US Trade Representative resume meetings under the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the goal of reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement.
As for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, the act states that the US should advocate for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the UN, the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization and Interpol, among other international bodies.
The Taiwan Assurance Act authorizes the US government to conduct official exchanges in military, economic, trade and diplomatic affairs between the two nations.
Its enactment is almost tantamount to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which serves the US’ strategic interests and ensures Taiwan’s safety and space in international society.
The US House pushed for the Taiwan Assurance Act in the hope of achieving three major strategic goals:
First, the US through legislation wants to officially rectify its former strategy — forming an alliance with China against Russia — adopted during the Cold War, as China has already surpassed Russia and become the biggest threat to the US.
The US government aims to replace the TRA, which passively maintains the cross-strait equilibrium through arms sales to Taiwan, with the Taiwan Assurance Act, which more proactively ensures the safety of Taiwan and its right to international participation.
In terms of US national interests, the ongoing trade dispute and 5G technology war target China’s major interests. The Taiwan issue is of key interest to China, because Beijing’s deepest worry lies in the realization of Taiwanese independence, which might set off a chain reaction in Xinjiang and Tibet. In other words, the Taiwan Assurance Act should be the most effective strategic deployment for the US to contain China.
Finally, the US brought in the Taiwan Assurance Act to ensure the completeness of Taiwan’s sovereignty to guarantee that the US first island chain strategy remains intact.
Strategically speaking, keeping the strategy should comprehensively block Chinese influence from infiltrating the Pacific region.
From a diplomatic perspective, supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organizations should help curb China’s suppressive actions in the region while serving as a bargaining chip in the trade and 5G disputes.
Jeff Sheng is a chief researcher of the US-Japan-Taiwan Relations Research Center, Association of Economic, Trading and Cultural Exchange between Taiwan and Japan in Taipei.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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