The exterior of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan. Photo: Handout

April 10 will mark the 40th anniversary of the US enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which helps maintain peace, security and stability in Asia and promotes the foreign policy of the United States. A group of US senators from both parties has urged President Donald Trump to send a cabinet-level official to Taipei for the anniversary celebration. They also want him to  implement fully the Taiwan Travel Act and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act to reaffirm America’s commitment to Taiwan, a fellow democracy and an important economic and security partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

In April 1979, president Jimmy Carter signed the TRA after the breaking of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Republic of China on Taiwan. The act allows for a special authority created specifically for the island known as the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) to serve as a de facto embassy, and provides for Taiwan to be recognized under US law as a sovereign entity, regardless of the absence of official diplomatic relations. The act also obligates the United States to assist Taiwan in maintaining defense capabilities against the threat of an invasion from mainland China.

Republican US Representative Ted Yoho has sent a letter to Vice-President Mike Pence recommending that he visit Taiwan to mark the occasion. When asked whether the US would send high-level officials to mark the anniversary, Yoho, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had already put forth a proposal to invite Pence, as well as US State Department personnel, to visit Taiwan. He said he sent a letter to Pence on the subject a few months ago. However, the Office of the Vice-President and the State Department have yet to respond to inquiries on the matter.

Many Taiwanese welcomed Trump’s signing of the Taiwan Travel Act into law last year. It was an important development in the US relationship with Taiwan that cements the critical need for high-level visits between Washington and Taipei. Specifically, the law encourages high-level officials, including cabinet-level national-security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan and meet with their counterparts. I believe that travel of this nature is important to ensure Washington is acting in accordance with US commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Cross-Strait tensions have escalated and the danger of a new crisis is increasing as a result of recent developments in the US-China-Taiwan trilateral relationship. Taiwan has been a steadfast partner for the US, and there is no better way to mark the 40th anniversary of the TRA than to reaffirm America’s commitment to Taiwan. The last time a cabinet-level US official visited Taiwan was in 2014, when Gina McCarthy, then the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, became the first cabinet-level US official to visit the island in 14 years.

To mark this momentous occasion, Brent Christensen, director of the AIT’s Taipei office, has indicated his intention to hold a major event this month to celebrate the anniversary. This event will provide an ideal opportunity, consistent with the requirements set forth in the Taiwan Travel Act that Trump signed into law on March 16, 2018, to send a cabinet-level official to Taipei to underscore America’s enduring commitment to Taiwan’s democracy and its people. The provisions of the Taiwan Travel Act were reaffirmed in the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which was signed into law on December 31.

Dispatching a top delegation to Taipei for the 40th anniversary of the TRA is important to ensure Washington is acting in accordance with US commitments under the TRA. The event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the TRA underscores the importance of the TRA in cementing bilateral relations and ensuring cross-Strait peace, stability and security. They also illustrate the firm friendship and expansive exchanges between the United States and Taiwan.

I further believe that the presence of a senior delegation would send a strong signal of America’s unwavering commitment to and support for one of US strongest partners in the region, especially given Chinese efforts to change the cross-Strait status quo.

Kent Wang

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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