Taiwan Relations Act

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Taiwan Relations Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn act 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.
Acronyms (colloquial)TRA
Enacted bythe 96th United States Congress
EffectiveJanuary 1, 1979
Public lawPub.L. 96–8
Statutes at Large93 Stat. 14
Titles amended22 U.S.C.: Foreign Relations and Intercourse
U.S.C. sections created22 U.S.C. ch. 48 § 3301 et seq.
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as "United States-Taiwan Relations Act" (H.R. 2479 by Clement J. Zablocki (D-WI) on February 28, 1979
  • Committee consideration by House Foreign Affairs
  • Passed the House on March 13, 1979 (345–55)
  • Passed the Senate on March 14, 1979 (90–6)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on March 24, 1979; agreed to by the House on March 28, 1979 (339–50) and by the Senate on March 29, 1979 (85–4)
  • Signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on April 10, 1979

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 officially substantial but non-diplomatic relations between the people of the United States and the people of Taiwan.


In 1978, China regarded itself as in a "united front" with the U.S., Japan, and western Europe against the Soviets and thus established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1979, 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 the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan.[citation needed]

The ROC government mobilized its ethnic lobby in the United States to lobby Congress for the swift passage of an American security guarantee for the island. Taiwan could appeal to members of Congress on many fronts -- anti-communist China sentiment, a shared wartime history with the ROC, Beijing's human rights violations and its curtailment of religious freedoms, etc.[1][2]

Senator Barry Goldwater and other members of the United States Congress challenged the right of President Jimmy Carter to unilaterally nullify the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which the United States had signed with the ROC in December 1954 and was ratified by the U.S. Senate in February 1955. Goldwater and his co-filers of the Supreme Court case Goldwater v. Carter argued that the President required Senate approval to take such an action of termination, under Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, and that, by not doing so, President Carter had acted beyond the powers of his office. The case ultimately was dismissed as non-justiciable, leaving open the constitutional question regarding a president's authority to dismiss a treaty unilaterally.[3]

The Act was passed by both chambers of the United States Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the breaking of relations between the United States and the Republic of China on 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 of a nonprofit corporation incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia – the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) – without official government representation and without formal diplomatic relations.[4] The Act entered retroactively into force, effective January 1, 1979.


Definition of Taiwan[edit]

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 island of Taiwan (the main Island) and the Pescadores (Penghu).

De facto diplomatic relations[edit]

The act authorizes de facto diplomatic relations with the governing authorities by giving special powers to the AIT to the level that it is the de facto embassy, and states that any international agreements made between the ROC and U.S. 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.

The act provides for Taiwan to be treated under U.S. laws the same as "foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities", thus treating Taiwan as a sub-sovereign foreign state equivalent. The act provides that for most practical purposes of the U.S. government, the absence of diplomatic relations and recognition will have no effect.[5]

Military provisions[edit]

The Taiwan Relations Act does not guarantee the USA will intervene militarily if the PRC attacks or invades Taiwan nor does it relinquish it, as its primary purpose is to ensure the US's Taiwan policy will not be changed unilaterally by the president and ensure any decision to defend Taiwan will be made with the consent of Congress. 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.[citation needed]

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".

The act, while not authorizing the establishment or maintenance of a "Republic of China Ministry of National Defense" on Taiwan soil, does require the United States to have a policy "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 interpretation of its one-China principle).

Reaction and reaffirmation[edit]

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.[1] In the August 17th communique of 1982, the United States agreed to reduce arms sales to Taiwan. However, it also declared that it 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.[6][7] Both chambers of Congress have reaffirmed the importance of the Taiwan Relations Act repeatedly.[8] A July 2007 Congressional Research Service Report confirmed that U.S. policy has not recognized the PRC's sovereignty over Taiwan.[9] The PRC continues to view the Taiwan Relations Act as "an unwarranted intrusion by the United States into the internal affairs of China".[10] The United States continued supplying Taiwan with armaments and China continued to protest.[11]

On 19 May 2016, one day before Tsai Ing-wen assumed the democratically elected presidency of the Republic of China, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-chair of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, introduced a concurrent resolution reaffirming the Taiwan Relations Act and the "Six Assurances" as cornerstones of United States–Taiwan relations.[12][13][14]

The 2016 Republican National Convention in the Republican Party Platform states "Our relations will continue to be based upon the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act, and we affirm the Six Assurances given to Taiwan in 1982 by President Reagan. We oppose any unilateral steps by either side to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Straits on the principle that all issues regarding the island’s future must be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, and be agreeable to the people of Taiwan. If China were to violate those principles, the United States, in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself... As a loyal friend of America, Taiwan has merited our strong support, including free trade agreement status, the timely sale of defensive arms including technology to build diesel submarines..."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dittmer, Lowell (2001). "Reform and Chinese foreign policy". In Zhao, Jianmin; Dickson, Bruce (eds.). Remaking the Chinese State: Strategies, Society, and Security. Routledge. p. 179.
  2. ^ ROBERT GREEN, Mixed Signals, Taiwan Today, 07/01/2009
  3. ^ China Mutual Defense (1954), American Institute in Taiwan
  4. ^ April 10, 1979: Taiwan Relations Act Statement on Signing H.R. 2479 Into Law, UCSD
  5. ^ Taiwan Relations Act: Public Law 96-8 96th Congress Sec. 4 under APPLICATION OF LAWS; INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS
  6. ^ H.Con.Res.56 - Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act., Congress.gov, 3/17/1999
  7. ^ H.Con.Res.53 - Concerning the Taiwan Relations Act., Congress.gov, 3/11/1999
  8. ^ H.Con.Res.117 - Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States Government should reaffirm its unwavering commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act as the cornerstone of United States relations with Taiwan, and for other purposes., Congress.gov, 3/25/2003
  9. ^ CRS Report to Congress
  10. ^ Embassy of the People's Republic of China: China opposes US congress' resolution on Taiwan (19/07/2004)
  11. ^ The Editorial Board (December 24, 2015). "China's Tantrum on Taiwan Arms Deal". The New York Times. Retrieved December 25, 2015. The new arms package, which includes two navy frigates, antitank missiles, combat systems for minesweepers, amphibious attack vehicles and communications systems....
  12. ^ Menendez, Rubio: "Six Assurances" Continued Foundation of U.S.-Taiwan Relations, Senator Bob Menendez, May 19, 2016
  13. ^ Rubio, Menendez: ‘Six Assurances’ Continued Foundation Of U.S.-Taiwan Relations, Senator Marco Rubio, May 19, 2016
  14. ^ S.Con.Res.38 - A concurrent resolution reaffirming the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances as cornerstones of United States-Taiwan relations., Congress.gov, May 19, 2016
  15. ^ The 2016 Republican Party Platform, Republican National Committee, July 18, 2016

External links[edit]