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Remarks by David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State
East Asian and Pacific Affairs At the Heritage Foundation (virtual)
September 4, 2020

David R. Stilwell
David R. Stilwell

Remarks by David R. Stilwell,

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

at the Heritage Foundation (virtual) 

August 31, 2020 

 (as prepared for delivery) 


Thank you for the wonderful introduction.  I would like to thank the Heritage Foundation for the invitation to speak with you today.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk about Taiwan, one of America’s most reliable partners in the Indo-Pacific, and indeed the world.

It says a lot about Taiwan that, in the pre-COVID era, millions of tourists from mainland China would visit the sites during the day and huddle around the TV in their hotel rooms at night.  Why would they do so?  To witness the spectacle of free ethnic Chinese people speaking their minds openly and fearlessly, engaging in robust debate and enjoying their democratic freedoms, including the right to criticize their elected leaders.

For such mainland visitors, a visit to Taiwan was a reminder that no one person, no one party, can monopolize the minds and thoughts of all ethnic Chinese people.  Indeed, it served as the most compelling tourist attraction of all:  a vision of a democratic Chinese society and polity that is prosperous, harmonious, free, and highly respected by people all around the world.

If you visit the National Palace Museum, you can see treasures that escaped the Communist Red Guards and the horrific destruction of the Cultural Revolution.  In Taiwan you can see a Chinese society that flourishes free of the toxic brew of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought that battered the mainland.

Taiwan is a highly advanced $600 billion economy with 23 million free people.  It is a vision of how much the Chinese people can achieve.

Until recently, Hong Kong provided a similar vision.

Because of this, and more than ever, Taiwan is important to America, and important to the world.  It is a good friend to nations that seek help, whether in dealing with Ebola, or COVID, or the other problems faced by our world.

It is for these reasons that we Americans focus so much on Taiwan, and why we admire its leaders and its people and its institutions and its symbolism in world affairs.

It is why large bipartisan majorities of our elected representatives signal consistent support for Taiwan, and for its people, and for the values that it represents.


There’s a lot going on in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship these days.

To refresh, the Taiwan Relations Act directs that the United States will continue engagement with Taiwan to maintain stability in the Western Pacific and support commercial, cultural and other relations between the people of the United States and Taiwan.

As I am sure everyone knows, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taiwan earlier this month.  He met with President Tsai Ing-wen and other senior members of her team to promote stronger health and economic ties, especially in light of the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary Azar’s trip was a continuation of our longstanding support for Taiwan. For years we regularly sent Cabinet officials to demonstrate our principled and sustained support.

Last week, American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen joined Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, to issue a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, expanding cooperation on data protection, freedom, and human rights.

In May, Secretary Pompeo and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross welcomed the announcement from TSMC, Taiwan’s world-leading semiconductor company, declaring its intent to invest $12 billion in Arizona to manufacture the world’s most advanced semiconductor chips for use in 5G and other applications right here in the United States.

To build on this great momentum, I am glad to share today that the U.S. and Taiwan are establishing a new bilateral economic dialogue. These talks will explore the full spectrum of our economic relationship – semiconductors, healthcare, energy, and beyond – with technology at the core.


Given these various actions, you may wonder whether the United States is trying to signal a policy change.

The truth is, what I have just outlined is entirely consistent with our longstanding policy.  We have sent high-level officials to Taiwan before.  We regularly conduct meetings with Taiwan’s leaders, facilitated by the American Institute in Taiwan and Taiwan’s representative office in Washington. We, and other countries, I might add, have approved significant arms sales under this and previous administrations.

For nearly four decades, U.S. policy has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the three joint communiques between Washington and Beijing, and the Six Assurances provided by President Reagan to Taipei in 1982.

All of these policy elements are important, but I’d like to dwell for a moment on the Six Assurances, partly because there has been some confusion about them over the years.

In fact, I am pleased to announce today that the Administration has declassified two cables that detail the Six Assurances and underscore their importance.

Here they are:

First, the United States has set no date for ending arms sales to Taiwan.

Second, the United States has not agreed to prior consultation with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.

Third, the United States has not agreed on any mediation role between Beijing and Taipei.

Fourth, the United States has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.

Fifth, the United States has not agreed to take any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.

And sixth, the United States will never pressure Taiwan to negotiate with Beijing.

These were the Six Assurances that President Reagan made to Taiwan in 1982, and they endure today. I invite everyone to go to the website of the American Institute in Taiwan, where these documents are now posted.

Last year we declassified and posted another related memo, written by President Reagan in August 1982. In the memo, President Reagan wrote: “The U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC differences…In addition, it is essential that the quality and quantity of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC.”

It is important to review history like this because Beijing has a habit of distorting it. So we should go back and consult the facts as often as we’re able.

Those facts are clear. The U.S. has long had a one-China policy. This is distinct from Beijing’s “One China Principle” under which the Chinese Communist Party asserts sovereignty over Taiwan. The U.S. takes no position on sovereignty over Taiwan.

The fundamental U.S. interest is that the Taiwan question be resolved peacefully, without coercion, and in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides of the Strait – as Beijing promised. Meanwhile the U.S. maintains extensive, close, and friendly unofficial relations with Taipei, including commitments to assist Taiwan in its self-defense, pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act.

We have changed nothing about these longstanding policies. What we are doing, though, is making some important updates to our engagement with Taiwan to better reflect these policies and respond to changing circumstances.  The adjustments are significant, but still well within the boundaries of our one–China policy.

We feel compelled to make these adjustments for two reasons.

First, because of the increasing threat posed by Beijing to peace and stability in the region, which is a vital interest of the United States.

In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has targeted Taiwan with diplomatic isolation, bellicose military threats and actions, cyber hacks, economic pressure, “United Front” interference activities – you name it.

These actions challenge the peace and stability of the Western Pacific. Let’s be clear: These destabilizing actions come from Beijing, not from Taipei or Washington.

We support the longtime status quo across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing has unilaterally altered it, through flipping of diplomatic partners, pushing Taiwan out of international organizations, stepped up military maneuvers, and other activities.  So we must act to restore balance. Other peace-loving countries should do the same.

Looking at Hong Kong, it is clear that Beijing is willing to disregard its international obligations to extend its authoritarian system and box in freedom-loving people.

We no longer have the luxury of assuming that Beijing will live up to its commitment to peacefully resolve its differences with Taipei, as it promised us in the three joint communiques.

And while we continue to honor those agreements, I assure you that the United States is fully committed to upholding the Taiwan Relations Act and fulfilling our commitments under the Six Assurances as well.

We will continue to help Taipei resist the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign to pressure, intimidate, and marginalize Taiwan.

The United States has responded and continues to respond to increased PRC military pressure by providing necessary defense articles and other support.

As China’s military equipment and technology rapidly advance, we believe it will be increasingly critical for Taiwan to invest in and deploy resilient and cost-effective capabilities that can be a credible deterrent to that growing PRC threat.  This includes building an effective territorial defense force as a key part of that overall deterrence.


The second reason we have been focusing on our engagement with Taiwan is simply to reflect the growing and deepening ties of friendship, trade, and productivity between the United States and Taiwan.

While they may be interrelated, our relationship with Taiwan is not a subset of our bilateral relationship with the PRC.  Our friendship and cooperation with Taiwan stands on its own, fed from the wellsprings of shared values, cultural affinity, and commercial and economic ties.

The U.S. Congress, reflecting the will of the American people, has worked hard to ensure that our friendship with Taiwan further flourishes.  Recently enacted by huge bipartisan margins, The Taiwan Travel Act encourages visits at all levels, while the TAIPEI Act calls for a much more active role for Taiwan in international organizations.

We are fortunate in America to have a vibrant Taiwanese-American community, which serves as an important bridge between our two peoples.

With a population of 23 million, Taiwan continues to punch above its weight in economics as well as governance, thereby making the world a better place.

That success has been all the more remarkable considering the many challenges and external pressures it has faced from across the Taiwan Strait.

I know many of you have witnessed Taiwan’s vibrant democracy and civil society in action.  In walking the streets of Taipei, I marveled at the openness of Taiwan’s society, and the seamless integration of its democratic system with traditional Chinese civilization, Confucian values, and indigenous cultures.

A morning run in Taipei took me past active Taoist, Christian, and Muslim places of worship in quick succession. This is a tribute to Taiwan’s religious freedom and pluralism – principles that are under threat all around the world, and perhaps nowhere as much as in China.

America and Taiwan are members of the same community of democracies, bound by our shared political, economic, and international values.

In March 2019, Taiwan hosted the first Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region.  At that dialogue, Taiwan announced its pledge of $1 million to the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Fund to provide critical assistance to those around the world facing discrimination for their religion or beliefs.

Last year, we convened the first U.S.-Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in the Indo-Pacific Region, highlighting some of the many ways Taiwan is a model of good governance for Asia and the world.

Surely former President Lee Teng-hui, who passed away earlier this month after doing so much to transition from authoritarian governance to a thriving democracy, must be pleased at this tangible evidence of his life’s work. We have been celebrating his many contributions to multiparty democracy in Taiwan, including the first peaceful transfer of power to a rival political party.

Secretary Azar’s trip to Taipei further highlighted Taiwan’s great success in marshalling accountability and transparency in the battle against COVID-19. Taiwan has not only been able to maintain a low number of cases and fatalities. It has also lent a helping hand by donating life-saving PPE around the world, including millions of masks to the United States.


The coronavirus pandemic highlighted Taiwan’s strength as a global supply chain leader.  After COVID-19 emerged in China, Taiwan mobilized its domestic industry and became for a time the world’s largest manufacturer of surgical masks.

Of course, Taiwan already is well known as a critical node in global high-tech trade flows and U.S. technology supply chains, including for semiconductors and smart machinery.

The announcement of TSMC’s investment in Arizona illustrated this. TSMC’s decision will shift critical technology supply chains back to the United States.  While China seeks to dominate emerging technologies and industries, we work with trusted partners like Taiwan to ensure that next–generation technologies, data, and intellectual property are protected from theft and manipulation by malign actors.

This is all part of a great Taiwan story – a free–market economy that embraces innovation, entrepreneurship, and private sector-led growth, while holding true to its democratic principles.

Given its track record, it should be no surprise that Taiwan is currently the United States’ ninth largest trade partner. In 2019, Taiwan was the seventh largest U.S. agriculture export market by value. It ranks as a top-10 market for U.S. soybeans, corn, beef, wheat, fruit, poultry, and processed foods.

This is the context for the welcome announcement made on Friday by President Tsai removing restrictions on U.S. pork and beef imports. Now that this important announcement has been made, I would expect Taiwan to become an even more important trade partner of the United States.

On behalf of American farmers and ranchers, I would like to thank President Tsai for demonstrating vision in taking these bold steps.


I’d like to close by reflecting on Taiwan’s role in the world.

The United States has long worked to elevate Taiwan’s profile in the international community, consistent with Taiwan’s global importance as a trade partner, democracy, and model of resilience against malign influence.

The Global Cooperation and Training Framework is a prime example.  Since 2015, the United States and Taiwan have co-hosted capacity–building workshops for the Indo-Pacific region on issues ranging from anti-corruption to media literacy to women’s economic empowerment.  Last year Japan joined us as a full partner in this program, and we have co-hosted GCTF events with other friends. We have also just started to take these workshops on the road to the Western Hemisphere.

Taiwan’s outsized support for the global community in response to COVID-19 has illustrated its capabilities and generosity as a partner.

We welcome the expanded engagements seen recently between Taiwan and countries in Europe, the Indo-Pacific, Latin America and beyond – including visits, parliamentary exchanges, sister-city pairings, trade and investment deals, public health cooperation, technology partnerships, and more. These engagements bring value to partners and promote stability and balance in the Western Pacific.

In international organizations, the time has come for more countries to cooperate in expanding Taiwan’s membership in forums for which statehood is not a requirement, and its meaningful participation, whether as an observer or otherwise, in those for which statehood is a requirement. In this latter category, I am talking about the World Health Organization.  The International Civil Aviation Organization.  Interpol.  And others.

We should no longer countenance the bullying and coercion of 23 million people that prevents us all from benefiting from Taiwan’s experience and expertise.


I appreciate the invitation to give these long overdue remarks today. In my earlier military career, I had scarce opportunity to engage with Taiwan. I am glad that is no longer the case.

And I hope many others around the world similarly get to turn more of their focus to Taiwan – to the many opportunities for productive exchange, and also to vital issues of security and international peace. The United States could not be prouder to work side-by-side with such a good friend as Taiwan.  And we are restating our policies to underscore that we will continue to do so.

Thank you.