The Vanishing Taiwan Relations Act
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 6, 2015
Executive Summary: Mainland China is reinventing itself. The United States and Mainland
China are engaged in a new tug of war. The value and strategic importance
of Taiwan to the US has been diminished. US officials make little mention
of the Taiwan Relations Act. That is certainly a matter of concern. But
even more importantly, we must think about the next five years, 10
years, or even 20 years. Will the situation on Mainland China, the
Asian-Pacific region, and the rest of the world change? Will
Washington-Beijing relations change? What part will Taipei play in all
this? The Republic of China's survival, development, and sovereignty
will receive less and less US support. It must rely more on soft power
and the flexible application of smart power. These are survival
strategies we must consider, apart from the Taiwan Relations Act.
Full Text Below:
On April 10, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed the House and Senate approved "Taiwan Relations Act" (TRA). This important act pertaining to Washington-Taipei relations is now 36 years old. But recently high-ranking officials of the US have mentioned only the three joint communiques, and not the Taiwan Relations Act. Is the Taiwan Relations Act becoming less important to US policy? If it is, then the development is highly unfavorable to Taiwan.
Several months ago, during a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace seminar, US State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman was asked about Taiwan. Sherman said the situation has changed. In the past, frequent mention of the Taiwan issue was a positive sign. Now however, the one China policy and the three communiques are the basis for stability and prosperity on Taiwan, and for stable relations with Mainland China.
Did we hear that right? If we did, then what happened to the Taiwan Relations Act? The US has long upheld the one China policy on the basis of "one act and three joint communiques." The one act is the Taiwan Relations Act. The three joint communiques are the Shanghai Communique, the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, and the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on Arms Sales. To be complete, the Taiwan Relations Act should be mentioned along with the three joint communiques. A senior State Department official omitted mention of the Taiwan Relations Act. Was this purely a verbal omission? Or were there other implications? Coincidentally, in February, US State Department Assistant Secretary for Asian-Pacific Affairs Daniel Russell also said that the US is guided by the one-China policy, which consists of the three joint communiques. He too failed to mention the Taiwan Relations Act. Scripted statements repeated for decades now fail to mention the TRA. The US apparently does not care. This is something that warrants our attention.
The Taiwan Relations Act is a unique bit of legislation. It is US domestic law. Yet it regulates US relations with a foreign nation, the Republic of China. When Taipei and Washington severed diplomatic relations, both the White House and Congress hoped to establish a legal basis and a policy framework for continued relations with Taipei. Whenever Beijing accused Washington of not adhering to the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on Arms Sales, and for not reducing arms sales to Taipei, Washington would cite the Taiwan Relations Act, since it stipulated that Washington would provide defensive weapons to Taipei.
In recent years however, there have been no major US arms sales to Taipei. This may be the reason US officials have forgotten to mention the Taiwan Relations Act in their recent statements. But frequent verbal omissions often reflect a change of heart. In 2009, US President Barack Obama failed to mention the Taiwan Relations Act during visits to the Chinese mainland. This has led to anxiety on Taiwan. Now US officials routinely fail to mention the Taiwan Relations Act. That probably means that Taiwan is being increasingly marginalized.
In fact, if we broaden our perspective, the strategic scenario between Washington and Beijing is undergoing major adjustments. These are merely the initial stages. Mainland China has mostly followed Deng Xiaoping's principle of keeping a low profile. But ever since Xi Jinping became president, it has become much more assertive in the international community. It has begun to make fundamental challenges to the old order.
Most attention-grabbing is the Beijing's hardline stance on sovereignty in territorial disputes. When Japan and Mainland China established diplomatic relations, they shelved their dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands. Mainland China has begun to patrol the territory, and announced the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. Its moves in the South China Sea have been even more high profile. Mainland China has increased its territorial claims around occupied islands. It has already increased the area around Yong Shu Reef to 0.9 square kilometers. As a result, the Republic of China's Taiping Island is no longer the largest island in the Nansha Archipelago. This is unprecedented in international politics, but has many benefits. One. It clearly proclaims sovereignty. Two. It increases the number of military bases, and expands the scope of naval and air force power projection. Three. It facilitates future ocean and seabed resource development.
The Philippines and other South China Sea region nations have protested. The United States has dismissed this a "great wall of sand". But the reality is that no one can do anything about Beijing's actions. Everyone can only look on idly as the South China Sea strategic map is rewritten.
Mainland China is no longer what it once was. It is using both the carrot and the stick to redefine itself in the international arena. The US is unable to cope with this new reality. It is accustomed to thinking in terms of containment. Take the AIIB for example. The US continues to use the World Bank and other agencies to keep Mainland China down. From the very beginning, it attempted to block the AIIB. Who knew that other countries would see the situation more clearly, and express their desire to join, even America's closest ally Britain. Mainland China's rise is obvious. It has become a regional power. The US is unable to prevent or reverse this trend. Eventually it must compromise, and adapt to this new Asian-Pacific scenario. It must rethink its strategic policy and establish a new cooperative relationship with Mainland China.
Mainland China is reinventing itself. The United States and Mainland China are engaged in a new tug of war. The value and strategic importance of Taiwan to the US has been diminished. US officials make little mention of the Taiwan Relations Act. That is certainly a matter of concern. But even more importantly, we must think about the next five years, 10 years, or even 20 years. Will the situation on Mainland China, the Asian-Pacific region, and the rest of the world change? Will Washington-Beijing relations change? What part will Taipei play in all this? The Republic of China's survival, development, and sovereignty will receive less and less US support. It must rely more on soft power and the flexible application of smart power. These are survival strategies we must consider, apart from the Taiwan Relations Act.
1979年4月10日，當時的美國總統卡特簽署了參眾兩院通過的《台灣關係法》（Taiwan Relations Act, TRA），這項規範美台關係的重要法案，至今即將邁入第36個年頭。但最近美方高層在論述對台政策時，卻只提三公報，不提《台灣關係法》，如果《台灣關係法》在美國的政策思維中漸漸退位，那對台灣而言，絕對大大不妙了。