U.S.-Taiwan Relations Past, Present, and Future

The cover story in this issue of Taiwan Business TOPICS looks back with appreciation to 40 years ago this month when the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), freshly passed by Congress, became U.S. law with President Jimmy Carter’s signature. The drafting of the TRA – a process in which AmCham Taipei is proud to have played a part – ended several months of frustrating uncertainty as to how economic, cultural, and security cooperation between the United States and Taiwan could be maintained without a relationship of diplomatic recognition.

The value of the TRA in helping assure Taiwan’s stability and prosperity over the past four decades has been immeasurable. The expressions of American support written into the statute enabled Taiwan to absorb the shock of losing formal diplomatic ties with the U.S., its closest ally, and to move on with confidence. The American Institute in Taiwan took the place of the U.S. embassy and managed to perform nearly the same functions, while its counterpart, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, played a similar role in Washington.

Sales to Taiwan of American defensive weapons continued as needed, and the two countries have remained among each other’s top trading partners, with total two-way trade last year of US$76 bilion. Facilitated by the visa-waiver program introduced in 2012, Taiwanese citizens last year made some 475,000 trips to the United States. The TRA also gave major multinational corporations, many of them represented in the AmCham membership, the confidence to make substantial investments in Taiwan.

Over the decades, political relations between the U.S. and Taiwan have had their ups and downs. But there is broad agreement that the current state of mutual trust and cooperation is higher than it has been in years. Recent statements by high-level U.S. officials such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have lauded Taiwan’s democratic development and contribution to the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific. In addition, AIT is preparing to move early next month into a new US$255.6 million office complex, a concrete symbol of the long-term American commitment to Taiwan, in Taipei’s Neihu district. And on the security front, the U.S. has recently indicated willingness to provide F-16V aircraft to Taiwan in the first military sales of jet fighters to the island since 1992.

As with any relationship, there is always room for improvement. Encouragingly, Taiwan’s numerous friends on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have lately been active in proposing new resolutions and legislation of support. Of particular significance is a proposed Taiwan Assurance Act that would further enhance the bilateral relationship by addressing some issues not foreseen at the time the TRA was enacted. These include the holding of regular annual trade talks and the need for U.S. government efforts to help Taiwan achieve meaningful participation in vital international organizations such as the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Interpol.

The TRA has served well in providing a solid foundation for the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Now this 40th anniversary year is an appropriate time to buttress the relationship further with strong additional legislation.