The Future of U.S.-Taiwan Relations

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From the despair of being abandoned by the United States’ recognition of China and de-recognition of Taiwan, we in Taiwan moved to quiet confidence in U.S. support with the U.S. Congress’ passage, thirty five years ago, of the Taiwan Relations Act, and President Carter’s subsequently signing the bill into law.

The TRA set out to preserve and promote extensive, close and friendly relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. The law makes clear that the future of Taiwan is to be determined by peaceful means, considers any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and of grave concern to the U.S., provides for the sale of defensive arms to Taiwan, and mandates that the U.S. maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or coercion that would jeopardize the security or social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.

Despite the lack of official relations, the TRA also specifies that whenever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with such respect to Taiwan.

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Because of the TRA, Taiwan has maintained robust security, economic, political and cultural relations with the United States. In the years after the TRA became law, the people of Taiwan have built Taiwan into a modern economy, an open society, and above all, a vibrant democracy. Without U.S. support, and without the stipulation that “nothing contained in this Act shall contravene the interest of the United States in human rights, which is reaffirmed as objective of the U.S.,” Taiwan might still be under single-party authoritarian rule with no chance of being hailed as a beacon of hope to the millions who still live under dictatorship.

Given the evolving strategic dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, the TRA is more relevant today than ever. With China’s non-transparent military buildup and growing assertiveness in its territorial claims, tension in the region has ratcheted up to a new level. There is serious potential for the East China Sea and the South China Sea situations to flare up into an armed conflict. The U.S. has launched its rebalance in response, strengthening its relations with friends and allies in the region. Taiwanese were reassured by evidence of the strength of this rebalance in President Obama’s recent tour to Asia. And because of the TRA, we know well that Taiwan will not be left out in the strategic design of rebalance.

The Taiwanese people would also like to express their wholehearted appreciation of the U.S. Congress’ reaffirmation of the TRA, under the leadership of Chairman Edward Royce, by the passage of H.R. 3470, and the act of making available to Taiwan four frigates. We also appreciate Congress’ relentless support of Taiwan’s international participation as well as participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

And we in Taiwan do need the United States’ continued support. In the past few years, the military threat against Taiwan has intensified despite some effort in reducing tension and hostility. American friends, who used to support Taiwan’s economic integration with our giant neighbor, have started to caution us regarding the problem of over-dependence on China and the need for diversification.

The best way Taiwan can give full thanks to the United States on this 35th anniversary of the TRA is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and our friends in the region to build the peace.

For 35 years now, Taiwan has depended on our great friends in the United States to be the guarantors of our security and freedom.  Now Taiwan needs to give back as much as possible and become an integral part of the U.S. effort to keep the peace and prosperity of our region firmly in place.  We are committed to being such a partner — spending on a defense that deters any miscalculation by others about our resolve and abilities, as well as offering our resources to help build the budding security and economic architecture in the region.

The Taiwan Relations Act is the blueprint for a strong Taiwan-U.S. partnership, and we in Taiwan need to have the United States’ interest in mind in our strategic calculation to make Taiwan a worthy partner of America. In line with the words and the spirit of the TRA, here are some of the ways for Taiwan to move forward, especially when Taiwan goes through another round of peaceful transfer of power in less than two years.

  1. Increase investment in defense: Over the past few years, Taiwan’s defense budget has been declining. As opposed to the promised 3 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, the defense budget has dropped to just over 2 percent. Saying that we would only buy two vessels because of budget limitations after the U.S. Congress worked hard to secure the sale of four is not allowed to happen again.
  2. Increase investment in research and development: Understanding that major weapons procurement is becoming more difficult, Taiwan has to increase its investment in the Chung-san Institute of Science and Technology up to 3 percent of the defense budget, especially in the area of UAV, UCAV, UUV and missile programs.
  3. Indigenous submarine program: Also because of procurement difficulties, Taiwan should immediately embark upon an indigenous submarine program.
  4. Investment in information security: China’s cyber warfare needs to be stopped. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) must upgrade and expand its operations regarding information security and engage in cooperation with the U.S., Japan and other democratic partners who also suffer from China’s hostile cyber activities.
  5. Define strategic priorities: Taiwan should never repeat the maritime conflict with our neighbor to the north and should never repeat the use of military force to intimate our neighbor to the south. They are U.S. allies and our friends, not foes. Our strategic priority should be placed upon strengthening relations with the U.S. and its allies, and not with an expansionist power which claims unsubstantiated historical rights.
  6. South China Sea issue: Taiwan should make it clear that it follows the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, article 121 specifically, in defining its territorial claims based on the actual ownership of Itu Aba (Taiping islet) and adheres to the principle of the freedom of navigation; Taiwan should also make it very clear that it will not cooperate with China on the sovereignty issue against any other claimants.
  7. Economic diversification: Taiwan should avoid economic dependence on China by diversifying its investment and trade portfolios and by immediate actions in structural reform, streamlining bureaucratic procedures, as well as simplifying legal infrastructure to prepare for more FTAs and TPP negotiations. These should be immediate and effective actions, not just talk, in seeking integration with fellow market economies.

We are facing a new and uncertain environment in the Asia Pacific, and this holds dangers for Taiwan, the U.S., and its friends and allies in the region. Together we can ensure a peaceful and stable regional environment. We in Taiwan are very grateful to those friends who had the foresight to legislate the TRA as the basis of our strong partnership and to current members of Congress for their reaffirmation of the Taiwan Relations Act as the cornerstone of Taiwan-U.S. relations.

We pledge to continue to work together to keep in the peace.

Jaushieh Joseph Wu is the Democratic Progressive Party’s  Representative to the U.S. as well as the DPP’s Executive Director for Policy.

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