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Taiwan - US Relations

In the Chinese Civil War, the United States aided the Nationalists with massive economic loans but no military support. On December 19, 1949, the US Embassy was moved to Taipei, Formosa (Taiwan), after the government of the Republic of China had moved there in response to advances by Chinese Communist forces on the mainland during the Chinese Civil War.

The debate which took place in the United States as a result of the removal of Chiang-Kai-shek to the island of Formosa centered on Republican charges that the Democrats "lost" China. "Without question, the critics had by early 1949 convinced many Americans that Truman was, shockingly, abandoning China, China being equivalent with Chiang's dying order," journalist Robert Donovan wrote in his two-volume history of Truman's presidency. US policy toward China during President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration remained essentially what it had been during the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations -- non-recognition of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), support for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government and its possession of China's seat in the United Nations, and a ban on trade and travel to the PRC.

President Nixon visited the Peoples Republic of China in 1972 and agreed to the joint "Shanghai Communiqu" of February 27, 1972, in which both countries pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. As part of the effort toward normalization, on May 1, 1973, the United States opened the US Liaison Office in Beijing to handle all matters in the US-PRC relationship except the strictly formal diplomatic aspects of the relationship. The Peoples Republic of China created a counterpart PRC office in Washington, DC in the same year.

When Jimmy Carter took office in January 1977, a significant improvement in relations between China and the United States was far from inevitable. In the aftermath of Nixon and Kissingers frustrated attempt to seek normalization during Nixons abbreviated second administration, the currents of American politics appeared less favorable to such a policy. Among Republicans, the increasingly powerful conservative wing, led by such figures as Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, rejected the notion that the United States should abandon the alliance with Taiwan for the sake of improved relations with a Communist country. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, concerned about the security of Taiwan and the credibility of American commitments, were more skeptical of Sino-American normalization than was the civilian leadership at DoD. In 1977, the United States informed Taiwans government that although it was beginning a process that might lead to normalization of relations with the Peoples Republic of China, it would not agree to terms that would undermine Taiwans security and well-being.

On January 1, 1979, the United States changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. In the US-PRC Joint Communique that announced the change, the United States recognized the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China and acknowledged the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China. The Joint Communique also stated that within this context the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people on Taiwan. The US embassy in Taipei was closed on February 28, 1979.

Following de-recognition, the United States terminated its Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan. However, the United States has continued the sale of appropriate defensive military equipment to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, which provides for such sales and which declares that peace and stability in the area are in US interests. Sales of defensive military equipment are also consistent with the 1982 US-PRC Joint Communique.

On April 10, 1979, President Carter signed into law the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which created domestic legal authority for the conduct of unofficial relations with Taiwan. US commercial, cultural, and other interaction with the people on Taiwan is facilitated through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private nonprofit corporation. The Institute has its headquarters in the Washington, DC area and has offices in Taipei and Kaohsiung. It is authorized to issue visas, accept passport applications, and provide assistance to US citizens in Taiwan. A counterpart organization, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), has been established by the Taiwan authorities. It has its headquarters in Taipei, the representative branch office in Washington, DC, and 12 other Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (TECO) in the continental US and Guam. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) continues to provide the legal basis for the unofficial relationship between the US and Taiwan, and enshrines the US commitment to assisting Taiwan maintain its defensive capability.

The United States position on Taiwan is reflected in the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the later stating that:

It is the policy of the United States--

  1. to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other peoples of the Western Pacific area;
  2. to declare that peace and stability in the area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the United States, and are matters of international concern;
  3. to make clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means;
  4. to 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;
  5. to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and
  6. 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.

The US insists on the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences and encourages dialogue to help advance such an outcome. The US does not support Taiwan independence. President George W. Bush stated on December 9, 2003 that the United States is opposed to any attempt by either side to unilaterally alter the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. While the United States welcomed exchanges that enhance channels of communication between leaders in Beijing and Taipei, the United States urged Beijing and Taipei to further advance cross-Strait cooperation and dialogue, including direct discussions between the authorities in Beijing and elected leaders in Taipei.

US commercial ties with Taiwan have been maintained and have expanded since 1979. Taiwan continues to enjoy Export-Import Bank financing, Overseas Private Investment Corporation guarantees, normal trade relations (NTR) status, and ready access to US markets. In recent years, AIT commercial dealings with Taiwan have focused on expanding market access for American goods and services. AIT has been engaged in a series of trade discussions, which have focused on protection of intellectual property rights and market access for US goods and services.

Maintaining diplomatic relations with the PRC has been recognized to be in the long-term interest of the United States by seven consecutive administrations; however, maintaining strong, unofficial relations with Taiwan also a major US goal, in line with our desire to further peace and stability in Asia. In keeping with our one-China policy, the US does not support Taiwan independence, but it does support Taiwan's membership in appropriate international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and the Asian Development Bank, where statehood is not a requirement for membership. In addition, the US supports Taiwan's meaningful participation in appropriate international organizations where its membership is not possible.




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