The 30-year anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) coincides with a period of relative calm in cross-straits relations. As tourist exchanges and economies ties between China and Taiwan deepen, growing numbers of observers question whether Taiwan should or needs to pursue its goal of de jure independence as aggressively as it has.
Reassessing the TRA is part of a broader reconsideration of cross-straits relations and American policy towards Taiwan. To undertake that task, Carnegie hosted a panel featuring Steven Goldstein, director of Harvard University's Taiwan Studies Workshop; and Robert Sutter, visiting professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Carnegie's Douglas Paal moderated the event.
The TRA Did Not Represent a Major Innovation in American Foreign Policy
Goldstein argued that far from representing a major innovation in American foreign policy, the TRA was quite consistent with U.S. strategic views on Asia in the postwar era:
Goldstein suggested that the TRA's enduring relevance has less to do with the purported foresight with which it was drafted, and more to do with the relative stability of the strategic situation in Asia. He argued, however, that six developments of the past decade or so could change that reality:
Professor Sutter argued that the TRA had two main legacies:
He contended that there has been insufficient mainstream attention paid to the changing dynamics of cross-straits relations, which have evolved incrementally. Sutter did not think that the growing military imbalance in favor of China would make it more inclined to take coercive action against Taiwan anytime soon. He did argue, however, that China's strategic footing in Taiwan is growing at the expense of America's.
Despite this new dynamic the United States is not eager to push the cause of Taiwanese independence given that Sino-Taiwanese cooperation is growing on a number of fronts, Chinese cooperation is needed on pressing global challenges, and, perhaps most importantly, Taiwan itself is not pushing for it aggressively.
Questions & Answers
Questions addressed the role that deepening economic ties between China and Taiwan might play in preventing an armed conflict between them; potential areas of conflict between the TRA’s provisions and American policy; growing Taiwanese nationalism; and the likelihood that the United States will maintain a “One China” policy going forward.
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