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Congressional Research Service, Taiwan – Issues for Congress, October 30, 2017

Attached, following the summary, is a report by the Congressional Research Service on issues pertaining to Taiwan.

October 30, 2017


Taiwan, which officially calls itself the Republic of China (ROC), is an island democracy of 23 million people located across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China. It is the United States’ tenth-largest trading partner. Since January 1, 1979, the U.S. relationship with Taiwan has been unofficial, a consequence of the Carter Administration’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and break formal diplomatic ties with self-ruled Taiwan, over which the PRC claims sovereignty. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA, P.L. 96-8; 22 U.S.C. 3301 et seq.), enacted on April 10, 1979, provides a legal basis for the unofficial U.S.- Taiwan relationship. It also includes commitments related to Taiwan’s security.

The PRC considers unofficiality in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship to be the basis for the U.S.-PRC relationship. Some Members of Congress have urged the executive branch to re-visit rules intended to distinguish the unofficial U.S.-Taiwan relationship from official U.S. relationships with diplomatic partners, in order to accord Taiwan greater dignity and respect.

The PRC continues to threaten the use of force to bring about Taiwan’s unification with mainland China. Beijing codified that threat in 2005, in the form of an Anti-Secession Law. The United States terminated its Treaty of Mutual Defense with Taiwan as of January 1, 1980, but on the basis of the Taiwan Relations Act, it has remained involved in supporting Taiwan’s military. Initially, support was focused on arms sales, which Taiwan Relations Act calls for “to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” Starting in 1997, the security relationship broadened to include dialogues, training and military education opportunities for Taiwan military personnel, and support for other “non-hardware aspects of military capability.”

After eight years of relative stability in the cross-Strait relationship during the administration of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016), tensions between Taiwan and the PRC leadership have risen under current President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The main point of disagreement is the long-standing issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Beijing insists that President Tsai commit to the notion that Taiwan and mainland China are parts of “one China.” President Tsai has been unwilling to make such a commitment.

Since President Tsai’s election in January 2016, Beijing has progressively increased pressure on her government. Among other moves, it has established diplomatic relations with three countries that previously recognized Taiwan, pressured host countries to force Taiwan’s unofficial representative offices to change their names, blocked Taiwan’s participation as an observer at international meetings, stepped up deployments of the PRC military near Taiwan, reduced the number of mainland Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, demanded that other countries return Taiwan citizens accused of crimes to the PRC, rather than Taiwan, and, for the first time, tried a Taiwan activist on charges of attempted subversion of the PRC state. Questions for Congress include whether the U.S. government should seek to support Taiwan in the face of mounting pressure from the PRC, and if so, how to balance such support with the U.S. interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the desire for constructive relations with the PRC The 115th Congress passed FY2017 appropriations legislation (P.L. 115-31) to fund the American Institute in Taiwan, through which the United States conducts relations with Taiwan. FY2018 appropriations legislation (H.R. 3354 and S. 1780) is pending. Other pending legislation includes the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2018 (H.R. 2810 and S. 1519), the Taiwan Security Act of 2017 (S. 1620), the Strengthening Security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Act (H.R. 2621), the Taiwan Travel Act (S. 1051 and H.R. 535), a bill “To direct the Secretary of State to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization” (H.R. 3320), and a resolution calling for negotiations to enter into a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan (H.Res. 271).