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THE HILL: Four decades of the Taiwan Relations Act remains a monument to our resolve to uphold democracy


In 1979, the cost of a gallon of gas was 86 cents. Atari was the “must-have” electronic system, costing consumers around $200, and my team, the Cincinnati Reds claimed their sixth National League West Division title.

In political news, on New Year’s Day, before the Reds could even make it to their Spring 1979 opening day, President Jimmy Carter formally cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In the wake of President Carter’s decision to recognize Communist China in place of Taiwan, Congress would deliver a swift rebuke, passing the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) with overwhelming majorities.

The TRA would go on to become law on April 10, 1979.

Forty years later, the TRA still serves as the cornerstone of U.S.-Taiwan relations. It codifies the basis for continued “commercial, cultural, and other relations” between our two countries (and I emphasize “country”) in the absence of formal, diplomatic recognition.

Crucially, it also made several other commitments to Taiwan. Taken together, these commitments affirm that it is in our national security interests to ensure that Taiwan can peacefully decide for itself whether it will, or will not, become part of the PRC.

Today, Taiwan is one of the world’s most compelling examples of democratic transformation, one of the richest countries in Asia, and one of our top trading partners. Indeed the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is one of our most important, right up there with U.S.-Israel and U.S.-United Kingdom.

As a founding co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus (now one of Congress’s largest caucuses), a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee, and a longtime friend of the Taiwanese people, I believe that it is essential that we continue to strengthen our bilateral relationship. That is why I have, and will continue to work towards, making good on our promises to Taiwan.

Just last year, President Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law. This legislation, which I introduced, encourages visits between officials from the United States and Taiwan at all levels.

A few weeks ago, I introduced House Resolution 248, which would distinguish the so-called U.S. One-China Policy from the PRC’s One-China Principle. Neither policy reflects the undeniable fact that Taiwan is a true nation, a country, and has never been part of the PRC.  That is why I have long sought to change U.S. policy, but in the meantime, it is still critical to distinguish the two policies, refute Beijing’s position, and clear up any misunderstandings.

Moreover, our support for Taiwan is becoming increasingly urgent. While the Chinese Communist Party has always sought to impose its view that Taiwan is a renegade province on the rest of the world, President Xi Jinping is now taking a more aggressive stance. For instance, in a speech earlier this year, President Xi implied a timeline for uniting Taiwan with the mainland, and reserved the right to use force. Worse, just last week, Chinese warplanes intentionally crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait for the first time in 20 years.

Furthermore, China continues to prevent Taiwan from participating in international organizations, even those like the World Health Organization, where an entity does not have to be a state to participate as an observer. China also actively campaigns for countries to sever diplomatic relations with Taipei, interferes in Taiwan’s elections, and engages in economic warfare against the people of Taiwan.

Our continued implementation of the TRA in response to this pressure demonstrates our commitment to the rule of law, human rights, and democracy in Asia. If we refuse to defend these universal human values when they are at stake for the people of Taiwan, how can we credibly call out Beijing when it backs Cambodia’s dictator, or gives the Burmese military a free pass for its genocide against the Rohingya?

Furthermore, how can we call out such authoritarians if we are unwilling to stand up to the PRC? If we are too scared of what President Xi might say, or of what Beijing might do, all our rhetoric about a free and open Indo-Pacific is nothing more than hot air – and China has already won.

Truly honoring the TRA at 40 years 50, 60 or even 100 means standing up for Taiwan, treating it fairly, and helping it provide for its own defense. At a minimum, it includes approving arms sales like the sale of F-16Vs as well as fully implementing the Taiwan Travel Act.

After 40 years, the Taiwan Relations Act remains a monument to our resolve to uphold democracy around the world. We must continue this fight in Taiwan, and anywhere around the globe where our values are threatened.

Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican, represents Ohio's 1st District. He is a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and a former Chairman of its Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. You can follow him on Twitter: @RepSteveChabot

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