Remarks on the 40th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act

Patrick Murphy
Remarks on the 40th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 9, 2019
W. Patrick Murphy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State,
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs


I want to express deep appreciation to key players behind this important event today commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, including our hosts and organizers — CSIS senior advisor Bonnie Glaser and Senior Vice President Mike Green — as well as supporters at the Brookings Institution, Wilson Center, and TECRO.

I am honored by the opportunity to share the stage today with the foremost experts on U.S-Taiwan policy, and such distinguished speakers as Representative Gerry Connolly, Legislative Yuan member Bi-Khim Hsiao, and Representative Stanley Kao.

This gathering reflects the very best of the strong friendship between the United States and Taiwan.  Congressman Connolly spoke about the history of the Taiwan Relations Act, which was integral to forging the bipartisan and enduring U.S. commitment to Taiwan.  I will focus on where we are now and the many opportunities ahead of us.

Let me first acknowledge the role of several key partners in carrying out our commitment to Taiwan.  The U.S. Congress has been instrumental, including such notables as Lester Wolff who helped craft the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 – and at age 100 is now the oldest living former Member of Congress — and more recently Senators Gardner and Markey, who produced the bipartisan Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, signed into law by the President.  And of course over the years, many other Senators, Representatives, and senior Congressional staffers.

We’ve also had important partners in Taiwan over the years.  Stanley Kao began his diplomatic career during the turbulent times of the late 1970s, when Taiwan’s democracy movement was just beginning.  Now, he’s here in Washington as the senior representative for Taiwan, a democratic and economic phenomenon.

The TRA and Taiwan Development “Miracle”

The Taiwan Relations Act has proven to be an exceptionally consequential piece of legislation.  The Act affirmed the strategic importance of Taiwan and the abiding interest of the United States in peace and stability in the Western Pacific.  It offered a vision and an adaptable framework for a wide-ranging relationship and provided a firm foundation for the growth of our ties.

Over the ensuing 40 years, with U.S. support as enshrined in the TRA, Taiwan has become a thriving democratic society and economic powerhouse.  The Taiwan miracle is an example for the entire Indo-Pacific region.  Over these transformative four decades, the United States and Taiwan have built a comprehensive, durable, and mutually beneficial partnership, grounded in shared interests and values.  As times have changed and the larger U.S.-Taiwan relationship has evolved, the conduct of our relationship has broadened and deepened, in the spirit of the TRA and consistent with our One-China policy.

Under the TRA, the U.S. commitment to Taiwan – and to the close commercial, cultural, and other relations between us – is stronger than ever.  And that partnership will continue to exceed the expectations of the TRA in ensuring the continued contributions of the people on Taiwan to the global community.

Strong Economic Ties

The quantitative measure of the strength of our partnership is through the economic lens.  Taiwan, only slightly larger in area than the state of Maryland, is the United States’ eleventh-largest goods trading partner and the ninth-largest consumer of U.S. agricultural exports.  The United States and Taiwan are also partners in billions of dollars of trade in services.  Two-way trade, along with investment, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs in the United States and Taiwan.

Our trade and commercial relationship benefits both of our peoples and the region and contributes to effective and secure global supply chains.  The evidence of this cooperation can be seen in everything from orchids to iPhones.

The United States and Taiwan also enjoy a close investment relationship.  Taiwan firms have invested, and continue to invest, across the United States.  Taiwan sent the largest delegation to the 2018 SelectUSA Summit and its members pledged to purchase nearly four million metric tons of soybeans from U.S. farmers over the next two years.  That is enough soybeans to fill nearly 60 full panamax ships, and just one panamax vessel is longer than three football fields.  In 2018 alone, U.S. exports of soybeans to Taiwan increased by 42 percent.

In addition, a Taiwan energy company last year agreed to buy $25 billion in liquefied natural gas from a Texas company.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, which represents more than 500 American companies on the ground in Taiwan, will be holding its own celebration of the 40th anniversary of the TRA later today in Taiwan.

We also continue to work through a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement – or TIFA – to address trade issues and look for new opportunities to collaborate and also to overcome challenges, such as market access for U.S. pork and beef.

Continued Support for Security Cooperation

Consistent with U.S. policy, as presented in the Taiwan Relations Act, to “provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” this Administration has so far notified to Congress $1.75 billion in military sales.  Taiwan is one of the United States’ top five largest foreign military sales partners in the world.  More than just a number, these sales help Taiwan’s self-defense and provide Taiwan with confidence to pursue constructive interactions with Beijing.

Our security cooperation is much more than arms sales, however. Through our respective representative organizations, the United States works to support Taiwan with training, exchanges, and development of doctrine to aid in the island’s self-defense.  Under President Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan has increased its defense budget and is examining innovative approaches to security.  This cooperation reflects the United States’ abiding interest in peace and security in the Taiwan area.

Enduring People-to-People Ties

There is perhaps no greater indication of our partnership than the growing, direct bonds between the people of the United States and our friends in Taiwan.  The Fulbright Program in 2017 celebrated 60 years of educational exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, minting 3,200 Fulbright alumni, who have gone on to become celebrated artists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and scholars.

I am pleased to recognize the esteemed Dr. Richard Bush as a Taiwan Fulbright alum, who went on to serve as the Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and has continued to build understanding between Taiwan and the United States through his work at Brookings.  Thank you for everything you do for U.S.-Taiwan relations, Richard.

We will continue to deepen these ties.  Following Taiwan’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program in 2012, two years ago we implemented an AIT-TECRO arrangement to make Taiwan the 12th Global Entry partner in the world – only the third in East Asia – whose passport holders can apply for streamlined international arrival processing at U.S. airports.

Taiwan travelers build ties, while also making significant economic contributions.  In fact, Taiwan is the seventh-largest source of international students for U.S. universities, delivering over $824 million to the U.S. economy each year.  There are more than 100 weekly direct flights from Taoyuan to U.S. cities, further supporting increased business, educational, and cultural link between the United States and Taiwan.

But we are not only friends when the way is easy.  We have also supported each other in times of tragedy and hardship.  When Hurricane Harvey roared out of the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, causing widespread destruction to communities from Texas through Louisiana, Taiwan was one of the first of our partners to pledge support.  Likewise, during the tragic 2016 earthquake in Tainan, the United States was there, ready to assist.

Proud Partnership through GCTF

Taiwan knows the devastating power of natural disasters, having endured and overcome many over the years.  Recognizing that Taiwan has much expertise to offer the global community on topics like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as on other issues such as human rights, digital economy, and more, the United States and Taiwan have partnered through the AIT-TECRO Global Cooperation and Training Framework, or “GCTF” for short, to combine U.S. and Taiwan resources and capabilities to help partners address pressing global challenges.

More than 300 policymakers and experts from dozens of countries have participated in GCTF programs, building a network throughout the Indo-Pacific of people linked by a common desire to work together on these issues.

International Organizations

Infectious diseases pay no attention to borders or politics.  Every country and partner must do its part to combat these threats.  And yet last year, the WHO, once again under pressure from China, did not invite Taiwan’s representatives to participate as observers at the World Health Assembly.

China’s attempts to exclude Taiwan’s meaningful participation in this and other international organizations prevent the global community from benefiting from Taiwan’s expertise and harm cross-Strait relations.  Taiwan’s 23 million people – who include doctors, scholars, researchers, emergency response professionals – must not be excluded from participation in international fora.  It is a loss of significant expertise to the region and the world.

We also cooperate with Taiwan extensively in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to advance open trade and investment issues in the region, including women’s economic empowerment.

The United States will continue to support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is not a requirement for membership, and its meaningful participation in international organizations where statehood is a requirement.

Chinese Pressure

Chinese pressure tactics have stepped up in other areas.  China pressed three countries to sever ties with Taipei last year alone – and continues strong-armed tactics with Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic partners.  The PRC activated flights on an air route through the Taiwan Strait without proper consultation with Taiwan authorities.  Beijing has sought to force corporations from the United States and other countries to refer to Taiwan as a “province of China,” which the White House rightly called a bit of “Orwellian nonsense.”  These bullying tactics will not win the hearts of the people on Taiwan, nor in other countries, and instead contribute to escalating tensions in the Strait.

Further, President Xi Jinping, in his remarks in January on the 40th anniversary of the PRC’s annual message to Taiwan, highlighted the potential use of force to achieve its objectives in Taiwan.

Statements and actions such as these disrupt the status quo and spur a downward spiral in cross-Strait relations.  They generate concern from all parties with an interest in regional stability.  There should be no unilateral attempts to change the status quo.  To reduce the risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation, the United States will continue to urge both sides to engage in constructive dialogue.

The TRA has contributed to a free and open order that has for decades fostered peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, including in China.  The United States remains fully committed to strengthening this rules-based system for the entire Indo-Pacific with a vision that excludes no one.  We consider Taiwan’s security as central to the security of the Indo-Pacific.

It is also the policy of the United States, in line with the Taiwan Relations Act, “to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”

Which is why I say, emphatically:  we reject the threat or use of force to compel the people of Taiwan.  Any resolution of cross-Strait differences must be peaceful and based on the will of the people on both sides.

Beijing should cease its pressure and resume dialogue with the democratically-elected authorities on Taiwan, which has done much to make positive contributions to the world.  And Beijing will need to make a convincing case about its ideas for the future to the people of Taiwan, who through their democratic system will have the ultimate say.

Taiwan’s Global Contributions

Taiwan deserves praise for its timely action on a number of key strategic issues with global implications, standing in solidarity with the United States and other members of the international community and setting a valuable example for the world.

In support of the international pressure campaign focused on the DPRK, Taiwan was among the first to announce the cessation of all trade with North Korea.  A valued member of the global coalition to defeat ISIS, Taiwan has contributed or pledged money and supplies to support stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria.  As ISIS committed genocide, enslaved women and girls, and forced millions of civilians from their homes, Taiwan and other Coalition partners provided much-needed shelters, demining equipment, and funds to support rebuilding communities.

To support those suffering oppression because of their faith, the United States and Taiwan, through AIT and TECRO, last month convened a regional conference on religious freedom, including participants from more than 15 countries across the Indo-Pacific and from a wide variety of faith traditions.  In a further demonstration of its commitment, Taiwan announced its pledge to contribute $200,000 each year over the next five years to the International Religious Freedom Fund and announced its first Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.

And inspired by the success of these events, last month the United States and Taiwan, through AIT and TECRO, announced the creation of the Indo-Pacific Democratic Governance Consultations, an annual dialogue which will serve as a regular channel to explore ways to increase our cooperation and pursue joint projects that assist other regional partners in addressing the governance challenges of the day.

Taiwan shares our values and has earned our respect.  The United States remains committed to supporting Taiwan while implementing the U.S. One-China policy.  Taiwan’s development and success is a model for the region.  Taiwan is a force for good in the world.  And we continue to believe, as the Vice President said last year, that “Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people.”

Today, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, I am struck by the wisdom and foresight of the Act’s designers.  Working together under this key framework, Taiwan has surpassed expectations and become a key player on the global stage.  We will continue to show the world, together, what partners united by shared values can accomplish when they work to serve the interests of all people, respect human rights, uphold the rule of law, and support free markets.

We look forward to all that we can continue to do together under this transformative framework for many more years to come.

Thank you.