February 1, the House of Representatives sent a powerful message to
China, Taiwan, and President Clinton that the status quo is no
longer acceptable in U.S. policy toward Taiwan. By an overwhelming
and bipartisan 341-70 vote, the House passed the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act (H.R. 1838), strengthening America's ability to
fulfill the mandate of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that the
U.S. make available defense articles and services for Taiwan's
self-defense. Faced with a promised presidential veto, the bill now
moves on to an uncertain future in the Senate.
Beijing, the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) demonstrates
that the United States will not stand by as China modernizes and
deploys its military in ways that threaten Taiwan. To Taipei, it
offers the sense of security that will allow Taiwan to enter
confidently into dialogue with the mainland. To the current and
future U.S. Presidents, it insists that Section 3 of the Taiwan
Relations Act be implemented faithfully to ensure Taiwan access to
what it needs for an adequate self-defense.
Beijing responded by threatening very
serious damage to U.S.-China relations should the bill become law,
and war should Taiwan declare its independence. The Clinton
Administration then reiterated its veto threat, claiming that the
measure would aggravate regional tensions and jeopardize its
landmark trade agreement. In fact, the opposite is true.
Why the TSEA Is Necessary.
Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that Taiwan's
security would not be compromised as a result of the termination of
diplomatic relations with the United States. Since then, the United
States has continued to sell defensive arms to Taiwan. But Taiwan's
security is still threatened by China's escalating military
modernization and buildup across the Taiwan Strait.
Section 3(a) of the TRA instructs the U.S.
government to make available "defense articles and services" to
Taiwan "in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to
maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." Section 3(b)
specifies that "The President and the Congress shall determine the
nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based
solely on their judgement of the needs of Taiwan."
Despite the clear intent of this language,
this has not been the case. Although administrations occasionally
have reported to Congress after the fact the nature and quantity of
arms sold to Taiwan, none has consulted Congress as prescribed in
the TRA. Furthermore, as China dramatically modernizes its military
forces, there are persistent reports that the U.S. has denied
Taiwan the sale of weapons systems necessary to meet this increased
TSEA enhances America's ability to determine and provide adequately
for Taiwan's self defense needs by:
Requiring Administration reports to
facilitate congressional consultation.
The TRA mandates congressional consultation to determine Taiwan's
defense needs and U.S. sales of military arms and services. The
TSEA simply calls on the executive branch, at a minimum, to provide
reports to Congress containing information necessary to make such
Establishing direct communication with
The TSEA does not prescribe the nature or content of
communication, only that a direct channel be established. Direct
communication does not change the nature of the U.S.-Taiwan
relationship; it simply minimizes the risk of miscalculation due to
Removing restrictions on rank and
content of military to military exchanges.
The TSEA calls on the Secretary of Defense to implement a plan for
operational training and exchanges of senior officers "for work in
threat analysis, doctrine, force planning, operational methods, and
Why the Senate Should Not
Faced with Beijing's rebuke and the President's veto threat, some
Senators have suggested not taking up the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act until after Taiwan's March 18 election, if at all.
Many have expressed concern that it might upset consideration of
permanent extension of China's normal trade relations status. For
several reasons, however, U.S. interests are better served by
timely Senate consideration of the TSEA.
Security supports democracy.
By voting before Taiwan's election, the Senate assures Taiwan's
people that they can exercise their democratic franchise, confident
that China's military coercion is not going unnoticed or unchecked
by the United States.
Enhanced security leads to flexibility
in the Cross-Strait dialogue.
Arguments that enhancing Taiwan's security will encourage "moves
toward independence" and a regional arms race ignore the history of
cross-Strait dialogue, which progresses when Taiwan feels
The TSEA will help, not hinder, passage
of permanent normal trade relations.
It demonstrates that the U.S. will not relent on important
security and political interests in pursuit of trade with China. As
House Majority Leader Richard Armey has said, "Friends of Taiwan
should have no fear of our greater trade with China, just as those
who want more trade with China should not object to us helping
Taiwan. Both measures serve exactly the same end--to advance the
cause of freedom in East Asia."
TSEA is largely a matter of the implementation of U.S. law. At its
heart is the question of whether Congress will reclaim for itself a
portion of its authority and responsibility under the Taiwan
Relations Act. The TSEA advocates a form of implementation of the
TRA, not a change in substance. Clearly, the U.S. should enhance
its own ability to determine and provide for Taiwan's self-defense
needs. This is the purpose of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act.
The alternative--Taiwan's total vulnerability to Chinese attack or
total reliance on American intervention--is unacceptable.
Stephen J. Yatesis a former Senior
Policy Analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage