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 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 considers the peace and stability in the Western Pacific area as the U.S.’s political, security, and economic interests and matters of international concern. Consequently, it is U.S. policy to regard any form of aggression towards 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 arms and services necessary to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity as determined by the U.S. President and Congress in consultation with U.S. military authorities. On the other hand, it also states that the U.S. shall maintain a capacity to resist any aggression that would jeopardize Taiwan’s security or social or economic system. The Act also prohibits U.S. agencies, commissions, or departments from denying export license applications or revoking existing licenses for nuclear exports to Taiwan.

Although the U.S. does not currently have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the TRA allows the U.S. to treat Taiwan as a sovereign state and its governing authorities as a government. Indeed, it specifies that U.S. laws referring to “foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities” shall similarly apply to Taiwan. All existing treaties and other international agreements, including multilateral conventions, entered by the United States and the governing authorities on Taiwan (which was recognized as the “Republic of China” before January 1, 1979) shall continue in force between them, unless and until terminated by law.

The TRA established the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a nonprofit corporation incorporated under the District of Columbia (D.C.) laws, to serve as the de-facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan. Official programs, transactions, and other relations concerning Taiwan are conducted by or carried out through the AIT.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act, the operation and procedures of the AIT, and the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan.