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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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 today calls itself the sovereign Republic of China (ROC), tracing its political lineage to the ROC set up in 1911 on mainland China and commemorating in 2011 the 100th anniversary of its founding. The ROC government retreated to Taipei in 1949. The United States recognized the ROC until the end of 1978 and has maintained an official, 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 Communiques 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. 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.” Taiwan donates official foreign aid, including $3.5 million to Japan after its catastrophes in March 2011. Taiwan’s economy is the 17
th largest in the world. Taiwan is the 9th-largest U.S. trading partner, including the 6th-largest market for U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. cumulative investment in Taiwan totaled $21 billion. Taiwan is a major innovator of information technology (IT) products. Ties or tension across the Taiwan Strait affect global peace and stability, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, and U.S.-PRC engagement. Taiwan’s democracy has allowed its people a greater say in their status, given competing party politics about Taiwan’s sovereignty and priorities. The next presidential election is scheduled for January 14, 2012, two months earlier than in previous electoral cycles.

Particularly since Taiwan and the PRC resumed the cross-strait dialogue in 2008, one view has stressed concerns that the U.S.-Taiwan relationship has not strengthened. Another approach has seen closer cross-strait engagement as allowing U.S. attention to shift to expand cooperation from 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.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has sought U.S. support for his policies, prioritizing U.S. arms sales and Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Taiwan also has asked for an extradition treaty. Another issue has concerned whether to resume Cabinet-level visits. The United States and Taiwan have sought to resume trade talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), but there have been U.S. concerns about Taiwan’s restrictions on U.S. beef. Taiwan seeks support for participation in international organizations.

Legislation in the 112
th Congress includes H.Con.Res. 39 (Andrews), S.Con.Res. 17 (Menendez), and H.R. 2583 (Ros-Lehtinen). The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on “Why Taiwan Matters” on June 16, 2011. Other congressional actions have focused on arms sales to Taiwan. See CRS Report RL30957, Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990.

Date of Report: August 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41952
Price: $29.95

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