Taiwanese and US flags during a rally in Taipei. Photo: Twitter
Taiwanese and US flags during a rally in Taipei. Photo: Twitter

The year 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the US Taiwan Relations Act. The TRA has been the foundation of a strong history of trust and cooperation between the United States and Taiwan, and 40 years, the two have more in common than ever before. Taiwan has proved to be a reliable and strong partner for the US in advancing freedom, opportunity and prosperity in the region and around the globe.

However, as the 40th anniversary (April 10) coincides with escalating tensions in cross-Strait relations, Washington and Taipei have more to offer each other.

This will be an important year for US-Taiwan relations. After the recently held local elections, Taiwan’s political parties are already preparing for the presidential election in January 2020. The race will be consequential for Taiwan’s foreign policy and thus for US interests. The tone for the race is already being set amid Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 40th-anniversary speech commemorating the 1979 “Message to the Taiwan Compatriots.” Besides developments in cross-Strait relations, the significant milestones of the 40th anniversary of the TRA will also shape 2019 and beyond.

The TRA is one of the most important components of US policy toward Taiwan. For 40 years, it has provided a vehicle for peace in the Pacific region and a way of maintaining a direct relationship with the more than 23 million Taiwanese people, who are among America’s most important allies and trading partners. This legislation provides an institutional framework and legal basis for America’s continued relations with Taiwan after the end of formal diplomatic ties.

Since its enactment in 1979, the TRA has been the foundation upon which the United States and Taiwan have maintained their dynamic and enduring ties. For more than 40 years, the United States has played an important role in ensuring Taiwan’s security while maintaining constructive relations with mainland China. Enabled by the TRA, continuity in US policy has preserved American credibility within the Asia-Pacific region and enabled the island’s nascent democracy to flourish. US support for Taiwan has served as a visible symbol of US commitment to peace and security in the region.

The 40th anniversary not only represents an important milestone in America’s long-standing relationship with Taiwan, it also consolidates the foundation on which the bilateral security, economic and trade relations will continue to grow and flourish and reassures US commitment to maintain peace and stability in the region. Helping Taiwan make further meaningful contributions in the region is in the interest of the United States and in line with the spirit of the TRA.

Taiwan continues to be one of the United States’ most reliable allies. The security provisions of the TRA have provided strength to a climate of peace in the Pacific region

Taiwan continues to be one of the United States’ most reliable allies. The security provisions of the TRA have provided strength to a climate of peace in the Pacific region. The economic growth of Taiwan has provided a basis for increased trade with the United States; Taiwan now ranks as one of America’s leading trade partners.

However, there are several paramount areas where the United States should seek to strengthen ties with Taiwan and to bring into reality the legislative intent of the Taiwan Relations Act.

In his first major speech on Taiwan, the Chinese president said he would not renounce the use of force to achieve unification of Taiwan and the mainland, and China has been building military outposts in the South China Sea. In light of the Chinese threat against Taiwan, the US needs to stand up for what the act says and make it very clear that its relationship with Taiwan is an important one.

Given the increasing threat that China poses to Taiwan and to regional stability, it is in the interests of the United States to strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities against China. The best way to defend the democratic island from an unprovoked attack is for Washington to provide next-generation jet fighters and allow Taiwan at least to to ensure that it can defend itself and that its self-defense capabilities are never eroded.

Washington should continue to remind both sides of the Taiwan Strait that it opposes the use of force to settle the Taiwan issue, that a resolution is a matter for the two sides to decide themselves, and that the United States does not support independence for Taiwan.

Taiwan is a good friend and partner of the US, and Taipei has been providing assistance to Washington in dealing with a wide range of matters on the global stage. A move by the US to continue its commitment to Taiwan is critical to the security of Washington, since the two sides have established close ties through their attitudes toward democracy and human rights. US-Taiwan ties are vital to the peace in Asia-Pacific region.

Because of its proximity to and rapprochement with China, Taiwan has carved out a unique role in the Asian-Pacific region as the stakes grow in the US-China relationship, shifting from one that is predominantly cooperative to one that is primarily overt rivalry. Washington must work with Taipei toward a trilateral win-win relationship. Rather than fearing possible damage to bilateral ties with Beijing, Washington must work closely with Taipei and take advantage of the benefits this important partnership can offer.

The United States has an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Toward that end, it must support and encourage improvements in cross-Strait relations, albeit at a pace acceptable to the people on both sides. Strong US support for Taiwan’s autonomy also helps give the island’s 23 million people the confidence to strengthen their cross-Strait relations. America’s commitment to Taiwan’s safety and security is a hallmark of the TRA.

Taiwan’s economic achievements over the decades have proved the merits of the TRA. Taiwan has aspired for greater integration into regional economic and trade mechanisms. The US-Taiwan economic relationship is very robust, as Taiwan is the United States’ 10th-largest trading partner and the United States is Taiwan’s second-largest. Taiwan’s free market and importance in global supply chains make it an ideal place for foreign investment, and Americans have recognized this fact with the United States becoming Taiwan’s largest investor and an important exporter of agricultural goods to Taiwan. The United States and Taiwan must keep looking for ways to benefit mutually from the growing partnership, including through new trade deals.

With the anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act fast approaching, this is an opportune time to review the US-Taiwan partnership and work toward making relations even stronger. Looking forward, as we Americans commemorate the 40th anniversary of this landmark legislation, I heartily hope the United States will continue to support Taiwan’s democracy, freedom and economic prosperity and continue to maintain a strong relationship with Taiwan. It deserves our support in fulfilling the intent of the congressional drafters of the Taiwan Relations Act.

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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