Renaming TECRO Long Overdue

  • Post category:Op-Ed

By Kao Su-mei (林素梅) | FAPA President

To counter China’s increasing threats and aggression toward Taiwan, the US should continue to reinforce its support for and normalize its relations with Taiwan. To that end, a good and long-overdue next step would be renaming the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US, to the more accurate and respectful “Taiwan Representative Office,” and encourage other allies to follow suit.

After Taiwan and the US severed diplomatic ties in 1979, Taiwan established the oddly named Coordination Council for North American Affairs (CCNAA) as the counterpart to the US’ American Institute in Taiwan. Taiwan’s former embassy in Washington was then transformed into the CCNAA Office in the United States of America.

In 1994, as a result of the Taiwan Policy Review completed by then-US president Bill Clinton’s administration, the CCNAA Office in the US was renamed TECRO — a name that is also nondescript. However, the CCNAA headquarters in Taipei maintained its original name until 2019, when it was renamed the “Taiwan Council for US Affairs” to include the word “Taiwan” in its name.

The US should agree to rename TECRO to the more straightforward and correct Taiwan Representative Office for the following reasons:

First, TECRO is a misnomer because the word “Taipei” creates the strong inaccurate impression that the office only represents the capital, Taipei, and its residents, rather than the independent country of Taiwan and its people.

Surveys in recent years show that the overwhelming majority of people in Taiwan consider themselves primarily Taiwanese and believe that Taiwan is already an independent, sovereign country. By containing the word “Taipei,” the name TECRO falls short of paying due respect to the national identity and sovereign dignity of Taiwan.

Second, calling Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the US an “economic and cultural” representative office fails to accurately reflect the robust and comprehensive relations between the two nations. The US’ partnership with Taiwan encompasses far more than just economic and cultural ties. The US not only provides Taiwan with defensive arms, but has bolstered cooperation in science, technology, public health, energy and the environment, to name just a few.

And third, the name TECRO is inconsistent with the longstanding US policy of referring to Taiwan as “Taiwan.” Its renaming is thus long overdue.

Those opposed to the name change argue that renaming TECRO to include the word “Taiwan” would substantially change the US’ policy and position toward Taiwan. Their assumption ignores the simple fact that the US Congress and government have consistently referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan” for decades, especially after 1979.

This is evident in the titles of several US laws concerning US relations with Taiwan, such as the Taiwan Relations Act, the Taiwan Travel Act, the Taiwan Assurance Act and the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act.

Furthermore, the US’ de facto embassy in Taiwan is called the American Institute in Taiwan.

Since Taiwan and the US severed diplomatic ties in 1979, the US Department of State has maintained a secretive set of “Taiwan Guidelines” — a lengthy and closely held memo originally written in 1979 and 1980, and circulated within US government agencies to regulate US officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts.

In a memorandum on the Taiwan Guidelines dated Oct. 3, 1990, the department wrote: “Consistent with the unofficial nature of U.S.-Taiwan ties, the U.S. Government no longer refers to Taiwan as the ‘Republic of China’… We refer to Taiwan simply as Taiwan, and to its leadership as ‘the Taiwan authorities.’”

Fourth, changing the name TECRO to the Taiwan Representative Office would not merely be a symbolic gesture, but a substantive move that would lend more respect to Taiwan’s national dignity and strengthen US leadership among democratic allies to support Taiwan against Chinese bullying and aggression.

Those who contend that renaming TECRO would merely be symbolic should understand that in the realm of diplomacy, symbolism — such as ceremony and protocol, including the proper use of titles and names — serves a crucial communicative function and is often employed to achieve something substantive and meaningful in international relations.

It has often been said that, regarding complex and sensitive Taiwan issues, symbolism is substance. In the absence of Taiwan-US diplomatic ties, changing TECRO’s name would be particularly meaningful for Taiwan. It could also signal more robust US support for Taiwan’s distinct existence in the global community in the face of increasing military and diplomatic aggression from China.

Renaming TECRO is an objective that Taiwanese Americans have been striving for for many years, and it is gaining support from members of Congress. The chance of changing TECRO’s name with help from Congress looks better than ever.

In December 2020, 78 members of the US House of Representatives wrote to then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to ask, among other things, that the name TECRO be changed to the Taiwan Representative Office.

Moreover, the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act, passed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in July 2021, and the America COMPETES Act, passed by the House in February 2022, also called for negotiations to rename TECRO.

In May last year, the Taiwan Representative Office Act was reintroduced in the US Senate and House simultaneously, urging the renaming of TECRO to the Taiwan Representative Office.

The bill also states that it would be the policy of the US, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances, to provide Taiwanese with “de facto diplomatic treatment” equivalent to foreign countries, nations, states, governments or similar entities.

Reality dictates that Taiwan possesses all the qualifications of statehood under international law — including a permanent population, a defined territory, a central government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states — and has been an independent sovereign country for decades. Taiwan deserves formal diplomatic ties with all other countries.

The US, as a leading democratic country, should guide the free world in normalizing relations with Taiwan and eventually recognize it diplomatically. It is time for the US to start negotiating a name change for TECRO to better reflect the mission’s actual purpose. If there was a Taiwan Representative Office in Washington, it would be a powerful display of US support for its longtime friend and democratic ally.

As Taiwan continues to stand firm against aggression from China, the name change would bolster the US’ commitment to Taiwan and inspire other democratic allies to do the same. Hopefully then, “Taiwan” representative offices would become a new normal the world over.

This article is first published in Taipei Times (2024/03/13)