Taiwan Relations Act
|Long title||To help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific and to promote the foreign policy of the United States by authorizing the continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, and for other purposes.|
|Enacted by||the 96th United States Congress|
|Public Law||Pub.L. 96–8|
|Statutes at Large||93 Stat. 14|
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA; Pub.L. 96–8, 93 Stat. 14, enacted April 10, 1979; H.R. 2479) is an act of the United States Congress. Since the recognition of the People's Republic of China, the Act has defined the non-diplomatic relations between the United States and the Republic of China on Taiwan.
At The Third Plenum in 1978, Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC), definitively ending Maoist rule and beginning the reform era of Chinese history. During his speech at the plenum, he outlined a new Chinese foreign policy, whereby the Soviet Union - not the United States, as in the past - was identified as the main national security threat to China. During this time, China regarded itself as in a "united front" with the US, Japan, and western Europe against the Soviets. Accordingly, China established relations with the United States, supported American operations in Communist Afghanistan, and leveled a punitive expedition against Vietnam, America's main antagonist in Southeast Asia. In exchange, the United States abrogated its mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. So as to maintain good relations with the United States, the PRC offered new, more generous proposals to the Taipei government for Chinese reunification, introducing the one country, two systems concept which would allow Taiwan near-complete autonomy. However, the ROC government hardened its position with the Three Noes Policy and mobilized its ethnic lobby in the United States to agitate Congress for the swift passage of an American security guarantee for the island.
The Act was passed by the United States Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the breaking of relations between the United States and Taiwan. Congress rejected the State Department's proposed draft and replaced it with language that has remained in effect since 1979. The Carter Administration signed  the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain commercial, cultural, and other relations through the unofficial relations in the form by a nonprofit corporation incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia, the American Institute in Taiwan, without official Government representation and without formal diplomatic relations.
Definition of Taiwan
The act does not recognize the terminology of 'Republic of China' after 1 January 1979, but uses the terminology of "governing authorities on Taiwan". Geographically speaking and following the similar content in the earlier defense treaty from 1955, it defines the term "Taiwan" to include, as the context may require, the islands of Taiwan (the main Island) and Penghu.
Of the other islands or archipelagos under the control of Taiwan's governing authorities, Jinmen, the Matsus, the Wuqiu Islands, the Pratas and Taiping Island are left outside the definition of Taiwan. Also any area claimed by the authorities, but not under their control, is without mention.
De facto diplomatic relations
The act authorizes de facto diplomatic relations with the governing authorities on Taiwan by giving special powers to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to the level that it is the de facto embassy, and states that any international agreements made between the ROC and US before 1979 are still valid unless otherwise terminated. One agreement that was unilaterally terminated by President Jimmy Carter upon the establishment of relations with the PRC was the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty; that termination was the subject of the Supreme Court case Goldwater v. Carter.
The act provides for Taiwan to be treated under U.S. laws the same as "foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities". The act provides that for most practical purposes of the U.S. government, the absence of diplomatic relations and recognition will have no effect.
The Taiwan Relations Act potentially requires the U.S. to intervene militarily if the PRC attacks or invades Taiwan. The act states that "the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities”. However, the decision about the nature and quantity of defense services that America will provide to Taiwan is to be determined by the President and Congress. America's policy has been called "strategic ambiguity" and it is designed to dissuade Taiwan from a unilateral declaration of independence, and to dissuade the PRC from unilaterally unifying Taiwan with the PRC.
The act further stipulates that the United States will "consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States".
This act also requires the United States "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character", and "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan." Successive U.S. administrations have sold arms to Taiwan in compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act despite demands from the PRC that the U.S. follow the legally non-binding Three Joint Communiques and the U.S. government's proclaimed One-China policy (which differs from the PRC's One-China Policy).
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The passage of the Act severely damaged Sino-American relations in the eyes of the Chinese leadership, with Deng citing the Act in 1984 as the single most important reason why China discontinued its nascent pro-American foreign policy. From that time on, the PRC aligned itself with the Third World countries rather than with the United States or the Soviet Union, engaging itself in various movements such as nuclear non-proliferation that would allow it to critique the superpowers. In the August 17th communique of 1982, the United States agreed to reduce arms sales to Taiwan. However, the United States declared that the United States would not formally recognize PRC's sovereignty over Taiwan as part of the Six Assurances offered to Taipei in 1982. In the late 1990s, the United States Congress passed a non-binding resolution stating that relations between Taiwan and the United States will be honored through the TRA first. This resolution, which puts greater weight on the TRA's value over that of the three communiques, was signed by President Bill Clinton as well. A July 2007 Congressional Research Service Report confirmed that US policy has not recognized the PRC's sovereignty over Taiwan. The PRC continues to view the Taiwan Relations Act as "an unwarranted intrusion by the United States into the internal affairs of China".
- Dittmer, Lowell (2001). "Reform and Chinese foreign policy". In Zhao, Jianmin; Dickson, Bruce. Remaking the Chinese State: Strategies, Society, and Security. Routledge. p. 179.
- Taiwan Relations Act: Public Law 96-8 96th Congress Sec. 4 under APPLICATION OF LAWS; INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS
- CRS Report to Congress
- Embassy of the People's Republic of China: China opposes US congress' resolution on Taiwan(19/07/04)
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