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Congressional Research Service, “Taiwan-US Relations: Recent Developments and Their Policy Implications,” October 27, 2008

Kerry Dumbaugh of the Congressional Research Service prepared this report.
October 27, 2008

U.S.-Taiwan relations have undergone important changes, sparked in part by the increasing complexity of Taiwan’s democratic political environment and the continued insistence of Beijing that the separately ruled Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, elected on March 22, 2008, in a surprisingly broad electoral victory, has moved quickly to repair Taiwan’s relations with the PRC. Since President Ma assumed office on May 20, 2008, Taiwan-PRC talks have resumed for the first time since 1998. The first set of talks resulted in establishment of regular direct weekend charter flights. Taiwan also has made other concessions, such as lifting long-standing caps on Taiwan investment in the PRC and giving a lower profile to Taiwan’s bids for participation in U.N. specialized agencies. Opponents of the government’s plans have said that President Ma’s moves to improve cross strait relations have been too rapid, too unilateral, and have compromised Taiwan’s sovereignty and placed its economic security in jeopardy.

President Ma also has sought to address any annoyances in Taiwan-U.S. relations arising from the former Chen Administration. Throughout his tenure from 2000 2008, President Chen Shui-bian, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), pursued the position that Taiwan already “is an independent, sovereign country.” This position was highly objectionable to Beijing and problematic for many aspects of U.S. policy, which is based on vague “one-China” policy formulations. Term-limited, Chen was required to step down in May 2008. Since then he has been fighting a growing financial scandal that erupted during his presidency involving allegations of money-laundering and corruption by his administration and members of his family.

In addition to its U.N. bid, the Taiwan government also is seeking to raise its international profile in other ways involving the United States. Taiwan is seeking to be removed from the U.S. Special 301 “Watch List” (its inclusion connotes problems with intellectual property rights, or IPR) by making significant IPR improvements. It also is seeking to qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which eliminates some visa requirements for qualified countries. The Taiwan government also continues to place a high priority on obtaining a U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement (FTA); U.S.-Taiwan trade discussions to date have been held under a 1994 Trade and Investment Framework (TIFA).

The 110th Congress has been concerned with bolstering U.S. support for Taiwan and helping to improve Taiwan’s international position. Relevant legislation on Taiwan includes: H.R. 2764 (P.L. 110-161); H.R. 1390; H.R. 3912/S. 1565; H.Con.Res. 73; H.Con.Res. 136; H.Con.Res. 137; H.Con.Res. 170; H.Con.Res. 250; S.Con.Res. 48; and S.Con.Res. 60. This report will be updated as events warrant.

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