The Taiwan Relations Act: 40 Years of Mutual Benefit – Now More Relevant Than Ever 台灣關係法:40年的共同利益–如今更加適切 ◎楊正光

The Taiwan Relations Act: 40 Years of Mutual Benefit – Now More Relevant Than Ever

 ETHAN YANG/AUGUST 2, 2019

Forty years have passed since the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on April 10, 1979. Adopted with bipartisan support, TRA enabled the United States to maintain its close economic and strategic ties with Taiwan while establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It has been affirmed by seven US presidents weathering four decades of shifting political landscapes and priorities. Taiwan has been a key but less well-known ally in advancing critical security and commercial objectives in the fastest-growing region of the globe – the Asia-Pacific. Taiwan is a natural geopolitical partner sharing our core values of liberty, democracy and free markets even as its neighbor China eschews them within its own borders and seeks to undermine them across the Strait. Today the TRA is more important than ever as American strategic interests and liberal democratic ideals are challenged by authoritarian states such as China and North Korea.  The fortieth anniversary of this far-reaching and pivotal piece of legislation is an important milestone worthy of commemoration.

Taiwan’s situation is informed by a complicated recent history, and the TRA has provided the tools to navigate relations for four decades. In 1949 the Chinese civil war concluded with the Soviet-backed Communist faction declaring victory over the US-backed Nationalist faction. The Nationalists retreated to the island of Taiwan just off the coast of mainland China, declaring itself the Republic of China (ROC) while the mainland became the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The US initially recognized the ROC as the legitimate Chinese state while the two factions continued to be at odds with one another. In 1979, the Carter Administration formally recognized the PRC but subsequently introduced the TRA to maintain a relationship with Taiwan. Today Taiwan remains in a state of limbo being officially recognized as a nation by just a handful of countries not including the United States yet totally independent from the authoritarian rule of Beijing.

Taiwan, enabled by the TRA, has been a critical actor for the maintenance of democracy, freedom and commerce in East Asia. To this day China threatens to invade and annex the island of Taiwan which would result in subjugating its free people to a brutal authoritarian regime. The TRA has been the primary deterrent against Chinese aggression preserving Taiwan’s independence.  This has preserved free and open trade routes in the region and prevented harassment by the Chinese navy.

The US-Taiwan relationship features a strong economic component as well. Although Taiwan is only a small island of 20 million people, it is America’s 11th largest goods trading partner with two-way trade totaling $76 billion — $94.5 billion when services are included. The TRA is the cornerstone of this successful, mutually beneficial commercial relationship.

Taiwan has grown into a significant regional and global role model. During its short history, it has had political and democratic missteps – some quite dark – but has emerged as a vibrant democracy with dynamic markets and strong civil liberties. According to Freedom House, the island is now amongst the freest countries in the world, even more so than the United States. This is in stark contrast to its neighbor China where the Chinese Communist Party continues to censor thought, persecute religious minorities, stifle economic freedom and prop up regimes such as North Korea. Although China has offered to allow Taiwan to operate under the “One Country Two Systems” model if it were to reunify, its treatment of Hong Kongshows Chinese promises of sovereignty are often hollow. Ronald Reagan commented in 1980 that the TRA is a result of  “the timely action of the Congress, reflecting the strong support of the American people for Taiwan.” It was clear then and it is even clearer now that our relationship with Taiwan is one based on shared political and free-market values and a common vision.

After 40 years of cooperation and friendship with Taiwan the TRA has proven itself to be a bipartisan success story. It has provided invaluable guidance in navigating thorny relations between China and Taiwan and is a critical component in our security and strategic interest in the Indo-Pacific Region and facilitating commerce while restraining authoritarian regimes. Taiwan, because of the TRA, has been a loyal ally that has reformed its political system in the mold of freedom. The island’s political orientation has more in common with the philosophies of Reagan and Jefferson than with Mao Zedong and Kim Jong-un. The Taiwan Relations Act was wise policy forty years ago and remains so today.

The Taiwan Relations Act: 40 Years of Mutual Benefit – Now More Relevant Than Ever

Forty years have passed since the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on April 10, 1979. Adopted with bipartisan support, TRA enabled the United States to maintain its close economic and strategic ties with Taiwan while establishing diplomatic relations …

台灣關係法:40年的共同利益–如今更加適切     ◎楊正光

1979年4月10日簽訂的台灣關係法迄今40年,這項經由兩黨支持的台灣關係法,促使美國可以跟台灣保持密切的經濟及戰略關係,同時又和中共建交,歷經了美國七任總統的確認和40年來政治景觀的變遷及重點順序的洗禮。在迅速發展的亞太地區中,無論戰略或貿易均日形嚴峻,台灣已是重要但低調的盟員。台灣是美國地緣政治上理所當然的伙伴,共享自由、民主,及自由市埸等核心價值﹔隣近的中國在其國內對這些不但避之唯恐不及,甚至也想跨過海峽去削弱台灣的自由與民主。當美國的戰略利益及自由民主的理念受到像中國和北韓等獨裁政權的挑戰的今天,台灣關係法益形重要。這項有遠見且重要的立法欣逢40周年,是值得慶祝的重要里程碑。

台灣的處境源於複雜的近代史,而過去40年,台灣關係法則引領了美台關係。 1949年國共內戰結束,蘇聯支持的共產黨打敗美國支持的國民黨,國民黨撤退到台灣島,延續「中華民國」(ROC)﹔共產黨則在中國大陸成立「中華人民共和國」(PRC)。在國共紛爭交鋒的過程中,美國一開始是承認「中華民國」為合法的中國政權。1979年卡特執政時正式承認中華人民共和國,但同時簽署台灣關係法與台灣保持聯繫。台灣的地位迄今渾沌未明,不被美國承認,只和少數家建交,但仍能不屈服於北京的威權而獨立自主。

憑藉台灣關係法,台灣在東亞地區保持自由、民主與經濟繁榮﹔中國則不斷威嚇要併吞台灣島,置自由的居民於暴政之下﹔而嚇阻中國侵略,保持台灣獨立的主力就是台灣關係法,它防止中國解放軍的侵襲,保持地區的自由及經貿通路。

美台的關係也呈現強勁的經濟要素,雖然台灣小島只有兩千多萬人口,然而台灣是美國第十一大貿易伙伴,2018年雙邊貿易額達760億美元,如加上服務業則達945億美元,台灣關係法是雙方互惠貿易成功的基石。

台灣的成長是亞太地區也是全球的重要榜樣,在台灣短暫的歷史過程中,曾有政治和民主的缺失,有些相當黑暗﹔但終能呈現充满活力的民主,擁有勁爆的商機及堅實的公民權利。根据自由之家(Freedom House)的報告,台灣島已成為世界最自由的國家之一,甚至比美國還自由。這與隔隣中共統治下的中國,思想審查、迫害少數民族及宗教,扼殺經濟自由,為北韓的暴政撐腰等,形成強烈對比。雖然中共對台灣提出「一國兩制」謀求兩岸「統一」 ,然而看看中國對待香港,顯示北京對自主權的承諾是時常落空的。1980年雷根總統對台灣關係法的評語是「美國國會適時行動的成果,也反應出美國人民對台灣的支持」,昔日如此,今天更顯示我們與台灣的關係是基於共享政治與自由市場的共同願景。

經過四十年與台灣的友誼及合作,台灣關係法本身證明是美國兩黨合作的成果,它提供美國在處理中國跟台灣之間荊棘關係的指引,也是維護美國在印太地區安全與戰略利益及商務順暢並遏止專制政權的關鍵要素。台灣也因有台灣關係法,經政治改革成為自由民主的夥伴,一直是美國忠誠的盟友。台灣的政治走向與雷根和傑佛遜的哲理相近,而不是毛澤東和金正恩。台灣關係法在四十年前是智慧的方針,至今猶然。(鄭炳全博士翻譯)

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