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TRA at 40: Shirley Kan discusses the enduring importance of America's Taiwan Relations Act

Shirley Kan is an independent specialist in Asian security affairs and a Retired Specialist in Asian Security Affairs for the U.S. Congress at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS).

January 24, 2019


Enacted in 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act followed the decision of President Jimmy Carter to recognize the People's Republic of China and to break formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The act is to "To help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific and to promote the foreign policy of the United States by authorizing the continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, and for other purposes." Among its provisions are a statement that the use of coercive means to determine the future of Taiwan would be considered a threat to the peace and stability of the region and "of grave concern" of the U.S. It authorizes the sale of weapons of a defensive character to Taiwan.

In this video, Shirley Kan discusses what the TRA is and how it has functioned. She explains why it is important to the United States and to peace in East Asia.

For a quarter century, Shirley Kan served in the United States government, most prominently as a specialist in security affairs at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, a branch of the U.S. Library of Congress. Now an independent analyst, Kan has published articles in the National Bureau of Asian Research and in the Global Taiwan Institute Brief. This interview was recorded following a roundtable conversation she had on January 17, 2019 at the USC U.S.-China Institute.



USCI documents collection:

"Taiwan Relations Act," adopted April 1979

"Evaluating U.S. Policy on the Taiwan on the 35th Anniversary of the TRA," a speech by then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, April 2014

"A Strong and Moderate Taiwan," a speech by then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen, September 2007

"U.S.-Taiwan Relations, 2003," a speech by then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Shriver (currently Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs), February 2003

Some of Ms. Kan's previous work:

Taiwan’s Defense and Prospects for US-Taiwan Security Cooperation, Oct. 2018

Midterm Assessment of the Tsai Administration: 10 Ways to Strengthen Overall Defense, June 2018

She wrote this for the National Bureau of Asian Research:
Congressional Support for Taiwan’s Defense, May 2018

Some of her CRS reports

China and weapons proliferation, 2015

US-China military contacts, 2014

Security implications of the 2008 Taiwan election

US-China counter terrorism cooperation, 2006

China – suspected acquisition of nuclear weapons secrets, 2006

US-China nuclear cooperation, 2005