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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues

Shirley A. Kan
Specialist in Asian Security Affairs

Wayne M. Morrison
Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance

The purpose and scope of this CRS report is to provide a succinct overview with analysis of the issues in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. This report will be updated as warranted. Taiwan formally calls itself the sovereign Republic of China (ROC), tracing its political lineage to the ROC set up after the revolution in 1911 in China. The ROC government retreated to Taipei in 1949. The United States recognized the ROC until the end of 1978 and has maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with Taiwan after recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing in 1979. The State Department claims an “unofficial” U.S. relationship with Taiwan, despite official contacts that include arms sales. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, P.L. 96-8, has governed policy in the absence of a diplomatic relationship or a defense treaty. Other key statements that guide policy are the three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiqu├ęs of 1972, 1979, and 1982; as well as the “Six Assurances” of 1982. (See also CRS Report RL30341, China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One China” Policy—Key Statements from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.)

For decades, Taiwan has been of significant security, economic, and political interest to the United States. In 2012, Taiwan was the 11
th-largest U.S. trading partner. Taiwan is a major innovator and producer of information technology (IT) products, many of which are assembled in the PRC by Taiwan-invested firms there. Ties or tension across the Taiwan Strait affect international security (with potential U.S. intervention), the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, and U.S.- PRC cooperation. While the United States does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan, it is a significant autonomous actor in the world. Today, 23 countries including the Vatican have diplomatic relations with Taiwan as the ROC. Taiwan’s 23 million people enjoy self-governance with free elections. After Taiwan’s presidential election in 2008, the United States congratulated Taiwan as a “beacon of democracy.” Democracy has offered Taiwan’s people a greater say in their status, given competing politics about Taiwan’s national political identity and priorities. Taiwan held presidential and legislative elections in January 2012. Kuomintang (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou won re-election against the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate.

Since Taiwan and the PRC resumed their quasi-official dialogue in 2008 under President Ma and cross-strait tension decreased, some have stressed the need to take steps by the United States and by Taiwan to strengthen their relationship to advance U.S. interests. Another approach has viewed closer cross-strait engagement as allowing U.S. attention to shift to expand cooperation with a rising China, which opposes U.S. arms sales and other dealings with Taiwan. In any case, Washington and Taipei have put more efforts into their respective relations with Beijing, while contending that they have pursued a positive, parallel U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has sought U.S. support for his policies, including Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (in 2012), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and talks on maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. Other policy issues include whether to approve arms sales, restart Cabinet-level visits, and resume trade talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), or TIFA talks (resumed in March 2013). The United States has cited concerns about Taiwan’s restrictions on U.S. beef and pork, even as Taiwan has stressed international organizations and standards.

Legislation in the 113
th Congress includes H.R. 419, H.R. 772, H.R. 1151, S. 12, and S. 579. Other congressional actions have focused on arms sales. (See CRS Report RL30957, Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990.)

Date of Report: March 20, 2013
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: R41952
Price: $29.95

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