Search Penny Hill Press

Friday, June 4, 2010

Democratic Reforms in Taiwan: Issues for Congress

Shirley A. Kan
Specialist in Asian Security Affairs

Taiwan, which its government formally calls the Republic of China (ROC), is a success story for U.S. interests in the promotion of universal freedoms and democracy. Taiwan's people and their leaders transformed politics from rule imposed from the outside with authoritarian abuses to the relatively peaceful achievement of self-government, human rights, and democracy. The purpose of this CRS report is to succinctly discuss Taiwan's transformation and current concerns, paying particular attention to the role of Congress and implications and options for U.S. policy. 

Taiwan's people did not fully enjoy democratic self-government until the first direct presidential election in 1996. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), formed in 1986, and its candidate Chen Shui-bian won the presidential election in 2000, ending Taiwan's 55 years of rule by the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party of China. Taiwan enjoyed a second democratic transfer of power in 2008, when the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou won the election for president. 

After two democratic transfers of power, Taiwan has an unfinished story in promoting rule of law and maintaining a strong multi-party system, with implications for U.S. security, economic, and political interests. U.S. policy has played important roles in Taiwan's transition to democracy, by decreasing Taiwan's sense of insecurity through continued arms sales and other contacts after the end of the mutual defense treaty with and diplomatic recognition of the ROC in 1979, by continuing business ties that have provided for prosperity, and by pressing the KMT to end authoritarian abuses of power in favor of freedoms for all Taiwan's people, including the majority Taiwanese. Some say Taiwan could be a model for the People's Republic of China (PRC). 

Promoting an environment conducive to rule of law and business, President Ma has led his government to fight corruption in Taiwan, a complaint of some U.S. firms. He has touted his administration as a defender of democracy, enhancing Taiwan's rule of law and protection of human rights. He championed Taiwan's long-awaited ratification of the United Nations (U.N.) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Nonetheless, domestic and international scrutiny of Taiwan's democracy and rule of law has increased. Some events under the Ma Administration have raised domestic and foreign concern about Taiwan, most prominently the heavy police presence to control protesters during the visit of a PRC figure from Beijing in November 2008 and the prolonged detention of ex-president Chen on charges of corruption since 2008. 

Before reformist leaders in the KMT and the opposition forces pushed for political liberalization that began in Taiwan in 1986, Congress played an important role in U.S. pressure on the KMT's authoritarian regime to reform the political system. Congressional oversight is provided by law. In 1979, just after the United States switched diplomatic recognition from the ROC in Taipei to the PRC in Beijing, Congress carefully crafted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), P.L. 96-8 of April 10, 1979, and included a section on human rights. Congress has a long record of oversight of the human rights aspect of the Executive Branch's foreign policy toward Taiwan, external pressure on the KMT moderates to end authoritarian abuses (particularly involving the United States), and support for advancement of Taiwan's democracy. In addition to U.S. policy interests and relevant roles, Congress and the Administration continue to have a number of options concerning Taiwan's democracy, human rights, and rule of law, including remaining a more passive observer in deference to Taiwan's voters and their elected leaders in a fellow democracy. The clearest U.S. statement came in November 2008, when the U.S. Representative in Taipei expressed an expectation that Taiwan's legal system be transparent, fair, and impartial.

Date of Report: May 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R41263
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.