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Congressional Research Service, “U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues,” April 22, 2014

Shirley A. Kan and Wayne M. Morrison wrote this report for CRS.

April 22, 2014


The purpose and scope of this CRS report is to provide a succinct overview with analysis of the major issues in the U.S. policy on Taiwan. This report will be updated as warranted. Taiwan formally calls itself the sovereign Republic of China (ROC), tracing its political lineage to the ROC set up after the revolution in 1911 in China.  The ROC government retreated to Taipei in 1949. The United States recognized the ROC until the end of 1978 and has maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with Taiwan after recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 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 Communiqués 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. In 2013, Taiwan was the 12th -largest U.S. trading partner. Taiwan is a major innovator and producer of information technology (IT) products, many of which are assembled in the PRC by Taiwan-invested firms there. Ties or tension across the Taiwan Strait affect international security (with potential U.S. intervention). While the United States does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan, it is an important autonomous actor. Today, 22 countries have diplomatic relations with Taiwan as the ROC. Taiwan’s 23 million people enjoy self-governance with democratic elections. Democracy has offered Taiwan’s people a greater say in their status, given competing politics about Taiwan’s national identity and priorities. Taiwan held presidential and legislative elections in January 2012. Belonging to the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, President Ma Ying-jeou won re-election against the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP’s) candidate. The KMT also has a majority of the seats in the Legislative Yuan (LY).

Since Taiwan and the PRC resumed their quasi-official dialogue in 2008 under President Ma and cross-strait tension decreased, some have stressed the need to take steps by the United States and by Taiwan to strengthen their relationship to advance U.S. interests. Another approach has viewed closer cross-strait engagement as allowing U.S. attention to shift to expand cooperation with a rising China, which opposes U.S. arms sales to and other dealings with Taiwan. In any case, Washington and Taipei have put more efforts into their respective relations with Beijing, while contending that they have pursued a positive, parallel U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

President Ma has sought U.S. support, including for Taiwan’s inclusion in the U.S. strategic “rebalance” to Asia, international organizations, talks on maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Other policy issues are whether and when to approve arms sales, and how to bolster economic cooperation and resolve disputes, such as through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks (last held in April 2014). The United States has been concerned about Taiwan’s restrictions on U.S. beef and pork, even as Taiwan has claimed attention to international organizations and standards. Since March 2013, Chairmen Ed Royce and Robert Menendez of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, and other Members, have supported a bilateral investment agreement (BIA). On January 7, 2014, President Obama transmitted to Congress the proposed agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Legislation in the 113th Congress includes H.J.Res. 109, H.R. 419, H.R. 772, H.R. 1151 (P.L. 113-17), H.R. 1960, H.R. 3470, H.Con.Res. 29, H.Con.Res. 46, H.Con.Res. 55, H.Res. 185, H.Res. 494, S. 12, S. 579, S. 1197, S. 1683, S.J.Res. 31, and S.Res. 167. The FY2014 NDAA (P.L. 113-66) did not include language on Taiwan. (See also CRS Report RL30957, Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990).

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