Taiwan Relations Act (TRA)

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The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979

In 1979, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, the Act seeks to preserve and promote commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic relations. Today, it serves to maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific. It also set out U.S. commitments regarding Taiwan’s defense and security, and empowered Congress to oversee various aspects of U.S. Taiwan policy.

The TRA declares that the peace and stability in the Western Pacific area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the U.S. and are matters of international concern. Consequently, it is U.S. policy to regard any effort to forcibly annex Taiwan as a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and a grave concern to the United States.

Under the TRA, the U.S. pledges to provide Taiwan with the arms and services necessary to maintain its sufficient self-defense capacity, as determined by the U.S. President and the Congress. Such determination of Taiwan’s defense needs shall include review by U.S. military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.

In line with the U.S. objective to preserve and enhance the human rights of all Taiwanese people, the Act also states that the U.S. shall maintain its capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of Taiwan.

Although the U.S. does not currently have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the TRA allows the U.S. to pragmatically treat Taiwan as a sovereign State and its governing authorities as a government. Indeed, the Act emphasizes that whenever the U.S. laws refer or relate to “foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities,” such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan.

The TRA also stipulates that all the existing treaties and other international agreements, including multilateral conventions, entered into by the United States and the governing authorities on Taiwan (recognized as the “Republic of China” prior to January 1, 1979) shall continue in force between them, unless and until terminated in accordance with law.

The TRA also established the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a nonprofit corporation incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia (D.C.), to serve as the de-facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan. Whenever the President or any U.S. agency carries out programs, transactions, and other relations with respect to Taiwan, they shall be conducted and carried out by or through the AIT, or such comparable successor nongovernmental entity as the President may designate.

It requires the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to monitor the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, the operation and procedures of the AIT, and the continuing relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan.

The TRA also states clearly that this Act shall be retroactively effective as of January 1, 1979.