Two Decades of Taiwan Relations

Article excerpt

Twenty years ago this week, the U.S. Congress passed one of its most far-sighted and important pieces of foreign policy legislation, the Taiwan Relations Act. The question is, of course, whether the anniversary is a cause for celebration or mournful remembrance for the people of the Republic of China on Taiwan.

The act was made necessary by the decision of President Carter in December 1978, to establish diplomatic relations with communist China Jan. 1, 1979 - which meant withdrawing recognition from Taiwan, an old friend and ally of the United States. The American decision was met with stunned disbelief and shock in the island nation.

While U.S. presidents from Richard Nixon onwards have perceived the strategic need to deal with Red China to be paramount, Taiwan fortunately has never lacked friends in the U.S. Congress. That is as true today as it was 20 years ago.

Soon after its Dec. 15 announcement, the Carter administration hastened to send its version of a Taiwan Relations Act to Congress. The House and Senate Foreign Relations committees, however, balked at its contents. Produced in haste, the White House draft contained no reference to U.S. security interests in Taiwan, which, after all, go back to the days of the Korean War. Nor did it have any provisions for defensive arms sales to Taiwan. Without such commitments, Taiwan could not expect to remain independent for long, facing its mighty, menacing Communist neighbor across the Strait. In the course of the following months, Congress produced a far more substantial version of the act, which has formed the basis of U.S.-Taiwan relations ever since.

Most experts today believe that without the act, we would not have had a free, prosperous and democratic Taiwan today. …