Wed, Apr 09, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Penning the future of Taiwan

Harvey Feldman was a newly appointed mid-level US State Department officer in 1977 when he was given the task of writing what was to become the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the US law that established the unofficial US-Taiwan relationship and has governed bilateral relations ever since. Now, with the 24th anniversary of the law that Congress passed based on Feldman and a colleague's draft, Feldman talked with Charles Snyder, staff reporter for the `Taipei Times' in Washington, to reminisce on how the law came about and why


Former head of the American Institue in Taiwan (AIT) Nat Bellocchi, left, and Harvey Feldman, author of the initial draft of the Taiwan Relations Act, chat at a conference on national security in Taiwan in 1998. Feldman's act paved the way for the creation of the AIT.


Taipei Times: Could you sketch the atmosphere in the US Congress in early 1979 after the switch in diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing and how that spawned the Taiwan Relations Act?

Harvey Feldman (費浩偉): The atmosphere in Congress was something between aghast and enraged. The previous summer, [US] president [Jimmy] Carter had signed an amendment to an authorization bill in which he agreed that he would consult with Congress before making any change in our diplomatic relations with Taiwan. And, of course, he did not consult. So Congress was really very, very angry. So, they took the draft that the State Department had prepared on the Taiwan Relations Act, which was called the Taiwan Omnibus Act, and basically rewrote it.

TT: Why was a Taiwan Relations Act needed?

Feldman: We had to have an act because we also intended to go on selling arms to Taiwan for its self-defense. And the law said you could sell arms only to friendly governments. We also intended to continue supplying enriched uranium for their electric nuclear-power reactors because we were their only source of enriched uranium, and the law said you could sell enriched uranium only to friendly states.

Moreover, we had something like 70 treaties and executive agreements between the United States and the ROC covering everything from double taxation to airline travel, tariffs, friendship, commerce and navigation, and so on and so forth. So the question was, "What do you do with all of these things?" So we had to write a bill that would straighten all of this out.

The bill also dealt with the establishment of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and how it would function, and what its powers would be. So, all of that was in the bill, but what was not in there, and what Congress added, were the security guarantees.

TT: So there was some great sense of urgency in getting the bill passed?

Feldman: There was a great sense of urgency because we had a staff in Taiwan that basically lost its status on Jan. 1, 1979, and we couldn't even pay them. We couldn't pay the rent. We couldn't pay our electricity bill. We couldn't do anything until the legislation got enacted.

TT: Certainly the bill is a very nuanced document. And, it's unique among the foreign policy legislation that I've seen.

Feldman: Oh, yes. It is unique. There was never anything like it before. For example, how did we deal with this question of arms sales and enriched uranium sales? Lee Marks, who was my co-chair and was senior deputy legal adviser, and I came up with a simple sentence that said for all purposes of American law, the government previously recognized as the government of the Republic of China shall be considered a friendly government and Taiwan shall be considered a friendly state. In that one sentence, it solved it all.

But what Congress did was very important. They took this, and they in effect wrote a security treaty between the United States and Taiwan. Here was a security treaty that was not negotiated by the executive branch. It was created by the legislative branch. It is completely unique.

TT: Over the years, have there been any efforts to amend the law at all?

Feldman: Every once in a while, someone, usually not in Congress, gets up and says, "We need to strengthen this or we need to weaken that," and fortunately successive administrations have always said, "We're not going to tamper with it. Leave it alone."

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