UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


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.

NSC 48/2 elaborates that “while Formosa [Taiwan] is strategically important to the United States, the strategic importance of Formosa does not justify overt military action…the United States should make every effort to strengthen the over-all U.S. position with respect to the Philippines, the Ryukyus, and Japan.”

On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivered a speech at the National Press Club summarizing the shift in American foreign policy. Acheson’s speech reinforced President Truman’s statement a week earlier and his own address to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States was taking a hands-off approach toward Taiwan. American assistance was only effective when combined with a government that was supported by the people and had the potential to succeed. Acheson argued that, “it [American assistance] cannot furnish determination, it cannot furnish the will, and it cannot furnish the loyalty of a people to its government.”

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 Peopleâs 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 People’s Republic of China in 1972 and agreed to the joint "Shanghai Communiqué" 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 People’s 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 Kissinger’s frustrated attempt to seek normalization during Nixon’s 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 Taiwan’s government that although it was beginning a process that might lead to normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China, it would not agree to terms that would undermine Taiwan’s 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.

In the August 17, 1982 joint communique, the US stated that ""it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to final resolution."

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.

Diplomatically isolated Taiwan looked forward to more military cooperation and high-level visits from the United States under Donald Trump after he took office as U.S. president, though both sides were likely to proceed carefully to avoid a backlash from China. Trump had said in that he was open to renegotiating U.S. policy that forbids seeing self-ruled Taiwan as its own country. Trump would build a strong informal relationship with Taiwan in place since the 1970s, especially if helpful to business. A boost in informal ties would probably bring arms sales, military exchanges and a boost in senior-level visitors to Taiwan.

Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act on 16 March 2018 that encourages U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, a move that has angered China. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said that the self-ruled island’s government would “continue to uphold the principles of mutual trust and mutual benefit to maintain close contact and communication with the U.S.” US and Taiwan officials already travel back and forth between the two countries, but the visits are usually kept low profile to avoid offending China. China said the Taiwan Travel Act violated U.S. commitments not to restore direct official contacts with Taiwan that were severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. The Taiwan Travel Act was passed to provide the legal basis for high-level officials to visit Taiwan. The Act is helpful to deepen the relations between the two countries, and can encourage like-minded countries in the region to work together to promote regional peace, prosperity, and stability.

In December 2018, President Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) of 2018, which incorporates Taiwan in the security umbrella of the Indo-Pacific region, and reiterated US security commitment and support to military sales to Taiwan. US DoD’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report in 2019 stressed that the US is pursuing a strong partnership with Taiwan, ensure that Taiwan remains secure, confident, free from coercion, and will faithfully implement the Taiwan Relations Act.

There has been a change in the way the deals are being approved. In recent decades, U.S. administrations had waited until accumulated requests from Taiwan could be bundled into a single package. The rationale was to reduce the number of times the U.S. government would have to respond to Chinese objections. But in what appears to be a sign of strengthening U.S.-Taiwan relations, individual sales are now being approved on a case-by-case basis. There is a a routinization of weapons procurement. It is a normalization of the process, treating Taiwan the same as anyone else.

US health secretary Alex Azar and Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen's meeting on 10 August 2020 carried more symbolic weight than actual substance, Chinese analysts commented. In a response to the meeting which broke the diplomatic bottom line of China-US relations, People's Liberation Army Air Force reportedly deployed warplanes including J-11 fighter jets in a flight operation across the "middle line" of the Taiwan Straits. During Azar's meeting with Tsai, he praised the Taiwan island's success on health in combating COVID-19, and cooperating with the US to respond to health threats. He also conveyed a message of strong support and friendship from US President Donald Trump to the island. Tsai told Azar his visit was "a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations," and she expects the two sides to make progress together, including on vaccine and drug research and production.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denounced Azar's visit to Taiwan. He said the United States should not have any illusion about matters pertaining to China's core interests. He said "those who play with fire will get burnt."

The United States is ending restrictions governing official contacts with Taiwan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said 09 Janaury 2021, a move hailed by Taipei as ending "decades of discrimination". Pompeo said the "complex internal restrictions" on contacts with Taipei by diplomats, service members and others had been imposed "in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing." Pompeo added, "No more." Taiwan's government welcomed the move. The declaration may be more symbolic than substantive in effect, but it nonetheless appears certain to anger China. "China strongly urges the United States to stop its crazy provocation, stop creating new difficulties for China-US relations... and stop going further on the wrong path," the Chinese mission to the UN said.

The US State Department issued new guidelines for government interactions with officials from Taiwan to "encourage" bilateral engagement. Details of the rules had not been released. But the framework announced 09 April 2021 allowed US officials to hold meetings with their Taiwanese counterparts in federal buildings. The move showed President Joe Biden was continuing the general policies of his predecessor. The US under Trump enacted legislation to promote government contacts with Taiwan. Taiwan's foreign ministry welcomed the new rules, saying the US has demonstrated through action its unwavering commitment to Taiwan. The ministry said the rules will significantly increase engagement between the two sides, and open a new chapter in their relations. It added the US explained its move to Taiwan before the announcement.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry urged the United States "not to play with fire on the Taiwan issue, and immediately stop any increase in official contacts with Taiwan" on 13 April 2020. Zhao Lijian told reporters that the US must "not send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait." China's Foreign Ministry said the government had the absolute determination to protect the country's sovereignty. "Don't stand on the opposite side of 1.4 billion Chinese people," it added.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 06-10-2021 12:15:07 ZULU