AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Twenty years ago the United States severed its diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC).  The Taiwan Relations Act (TEA) was then enacted in 1979 to preserve and promote commercial, cultural, and other relations between the United States and Taiwan, and has been instrumental in maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., former assistant secretary for international security affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense, observed that the rise and fall of great powers has historically been accompanied by severe instability in international state systems.  The power structure in East Asia today is marked by just such a rise and fall of great powers. The Soviet Union has collapsed, North Korea is dangerously volatile, Japan's role is evolving, and China's power is rapidly rising. Moreover, the Taiwan Strait crises of 1995-96 demonstrate that peace and stability in the region can no longer be taken for granted. According to a Pentagon report, the People's Republic of China (PRC) now has 150-200 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the island has a dangerously limited capacity to defend against missile attacks and threats. 
On July 9, 1999, President Lee Teng-hui told a German radio interviewer that the cross-strait relationship is a "special state-to-state relationship," in sharp contrast to Beijing's long-standing position that Taiwan is a renegade province of China and its government merely a local one. Since July 9, the PRC has mounted a publicity barrage against President Lee and used the Hong Kong media to conduct psychological warfare against Taiwan. PRC fighter planes flew more than a hundred sorties over the Taiwan Strait in the month after President Lee's remarks, on two occasions in July crossing the "center line" of the 100-mile-wide strait, which was formerly respected by both sides as the limit of their military activities. 
The Taiwan Relations Act makes clear that any threat to Taiwan would be considered a threat to the security of the entire western Pacific, and therefore a clear matter of U.S. concern. The act also provides explicit language to the effect that the United States will make available defense articles and services in such quantities as may be necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Clearly the time has come to evaluate Taiwan's self-defense needs.
Assessment of the Taiwan Relations Act
The TRA provided a legal framework for the continuation of relations between the United States and Taiwan, and has stood the test of time. Trade between the two countries has grown spectacularly over the last twenty years, from $9.2 billion in 1979 to $51.2 billion by 1998.  Taiwan is now America's seventh-largest trading partner. In 1998 Taiwan imported $18.15 billion in American goods and services; the PRC, by contrast, only imported $14.25 billion.  Cultural relations between the United States and Taiwan have also deepened significantly. In 1997 people from Taiwan made more than 588,000 trips to the United States, and more than 30,000 students from Taiwan are currently studying there. Scientific, technological, and cultural exchanges have also been frequent, and some 117 bilateral treaties, agreements, and memoranda of understanding promote and regulate intercourse between Taiwan and the United States. 
To be sure, the ROC government was criticized at the time of the TRA's passage for its ban on new political parties, imposition of martial law, and limited censorship. However, Taiwan's record on human rights has improved rapidly since the mid-1980s. Martial law was lifted in July 1987, the ban on travel by residents of Taiwan to mainland China in November 1987, and restrictions on publishing newspapers and founding political parties in 1988 and 1989, respectively. The ROC became a fully democratic country with its first direct presidential election in 1996, and today enjoys a free press, free elections, stable democratic institutions, and guarantees of human rights. As a result, Taiwan has gained even more support and respect in the United States.
The main purpose of the TRA is to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the western Pacific. Section 2(b)(4) of the TRA considers "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 further asserts that it is U.S. policy to maintain the capability "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."  Finally, American arms sales to Taiwan have bolstered Taiwan's confidence in its dealings with the PRC. Just seven months after President George Bush decided to sell 150 F-16 aircraft to Taiwan in September 1992, the PRC's Wang Daohan, chairman of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), agreed for the first time to meet Dr. Koo Chen-fu, chairman of the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), in S ingapore. U.S. arms sales have contributed to maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and to creating an atmosphere conducive to the improvement of cross-strait relations. 
The U.S. Retreat from the TEA Framework
Its past successes notwithstanding, the TRA framework is perhaps less sturdy today than in 1979 because, to put it bluntly, the United States has lived up to neither the letter nor the spirit of the act. Notable among the failures to implement the TRA have been: (1) the August 17, 1982, Sino-American communique; (2) the 1994 policy review to ban visits to the United States by Taiwan's top leadership; and (3) the recent "three no's" pledge made by President Clinton to his hosts in Beijing. Each setback merits brief analysis.
(1) The August 17, 1982, Communique. Section 3(a) of the TRA sets forth the provisions for implementing arms transfers by stating 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 sufficient self-defense capability" (italics added). The vagueness of the italicized words prompts the question of who decides what arms are necessary or sufficient for Taiwan's security. Section 3(b) appears to supply the answer, as follows:
The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with the procedures established by law. Such determination of Taiwan's defense needs shall include review by United States' military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.
Thus, the TRA appears unambiguous: sole responsibility for determining Taiwan's security needs rests with the U.S. military, the president, and the Congress without any regard to the sensibilities of PRC authorities. What is …