Regardless of how the international community assesses the political life of former US president Ronald Reagan, for the people of Taiwan, his contributions during his eight years in office far outweigh his deficits. His policy that the Taiwan Relations Act was the only foundation on which the cross-strait political problem could be resolved swept away the shadows that had been gathering over Taiwan after then president Jimmy Carter broke off diplomatic relations in January 1979. Reagan helped Taiwan recover its confidence after that crisis in Taiwan-US relations.
In his dealings with Taiwan and China, Reagan's biggest mistake was to follow the advice of Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who advocated the erroneous policy of sacrificing Taiwan and joining with China to contain the Soviet Union during the early stages of the first Reagan administration. During a visit to China in August 1982, the Joint Communique of August 17 was signed, in which the US promised to gradually reduce arms sales to Taiwan. Fortunately, Haig resigned some months later and the Reagan government took measures to redress the damage done, issuing Reagan's "six assurances" the following year, in which the US stated that it would not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan, not alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, not alter its position about Taiwan's sovereignty, not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, not consult with China over arms sales to Taiwan and not act as a mediator between Taiwan and China.
The "six assurances" were historically significant as they marked the first time the US made a policy announcement based on the Taiwan Relations Act. In dealings between Taiwan, the US and China, this statement provided substantial and clear guidance to subsequent US administrations and opened the way for the US to send its navy to patrol the Taiwan Strait. With the guarantees that this policy provided, Taiwan's military situation improved enormously, and the nation continues to benefit from these guarantees. When some call Reagan the "guardian of Taiwan," they are not exaggerating.
We cannot say that Reagan made direct or obvious contributions to promote Taiwan's democratic reforms. But he stabilized the cross-strait situation, and therefore gained precious time and space for Taiwan's democratic movement to develop.
During Reagan's presidency from 1981 to 1989, activists bravely established the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) -- the first opposition party in Taiwan's history -- even as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government led by then president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) made mistake after mistake in trying to suppress democracy, even going so far as to send gangsters to California in 1984 to assassinate writer Henry Liu (劉宜良), who had written critically of him. The DPP forced Chiang to tacitly recognize the party's existence, and this was a turning point for Taiwanese, who had endured almost 40 years of oppression under martial law. Finally, this vicious law that deprived the Taiwanese people of their freedoms of speech, publication, assembly and association was lifted in July 1987. In 1988, the ban on newspapers also was lifted.
The Reagan administration helped to provide a stable external environment for Taiwan, helping the Taiwanese people stand up again after the repression surrounding the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident. Taiwan's democracy activists were able to change the destiny of the people, eventually allowing the nation to cast off an autocratic regime and join the ranks of the world's democratic countries.
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