On September 28, the Global Taiwan Institute held a public seminar commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Clinton administration’s Taiwan Policy Review. The first and only Review was conducted 15 years after Washington de-recognized the Republic of China (ROC) and the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and 12 years after President Ronald Reagan delivered the Six Assurances.
In this special issue of the Global Taiwan Brief, we invited several American experts on the United States’ Taiwan policy to share their views on whether the US government ought to conduct another Review. These articles are best considered as a supplement to GTI’s seminar on the TPR that covered the policy context for the 1994 Review. One of the articles solicited for this series will be released in a forthcoming issue.
The TPR laid out—among other proposals—nine policy changes to how the United States would conduct its relations with Taiwan (as published by the Formosan Association for Public Affairs). They include:
- Permit Taiwan’s top leadership to transit US territory for their travel convenience, for periods of time normal for transits, but without undertaking any public activities. We will consider each case individually.
- We are prepared to initiate, under AIT auspices, a sub-Cabinet economic dialogue (at the under-Secretary level) and TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) talks with Taiwan. We will be in touch with you with specific proposals in this regard.
- When we believe it is clearly appropriate, we will more actively support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations accepting non-states as members, and look for ways to have Taiwan’s voice heard in organizations of states where Taiwan’s membership is not possible.
- We will permit high level US Government officials, from economic and technical agencies to visit Taiwan, as well as more senior economic and technical officers from the Department of State. As we do this, we will make judgments as to what level of visitor best serve our interests.
- We will permit US government officials to travel to Taiwan to meet with your officials at whatever level.
- We will permit all AIT employees, including the Director and Deputy Director, access to your Foreign Affairs Ministry, if so desired.
- In the US we will permit US Cabinet-level officials from economic and technical departments to meet with Taiwan representatives and visitors in official settings. These meetings will be arranged through AIT.
- We will permit State Department Officials at the Under Secretary level and below, who handle economic and technical issues to meet Taiwan representatives but in unofficial settings.
While the Review noted several policies that were not affected by the review, it was meant as a prescriptive list, detailing what the executive branch proposed to do in order to enhance the conduct of relations between the United States and Taiwan. More importantly, the TPR was not a prohibitive list of what the executive branch cannot or will not do.
Yet, as it currently stands, how the US government conducts its unofficial relations with Taiwan runs in a labyrinth of self-imposed restrictions. It is, as the late US Ambassador Harvey Feldman aptly described in his 1999 Senate Foreign Relations testimony, an exercise in “having to operate a foreign policy which denies that Taiwan is a nation and its government is a government while both American law and manifest reality make clear that it indeed is both.”
In 2014, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver stated, in reference to limitations on contacts between US and Taiwan officials, that “[more] contacts are, in part, a recognition of what Taiwan deserves—the dignity aspects—but there’s also some real practical reasons to improve contact … [i]ncrementally changing that before we arrive at another crisis point would be to our advantage.”
The findings of the Senate version of the Taiwan Travel Act, which was sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio, James Inhofe, and Cory Gardener and introduced on September 27, 2016, make clear: “Since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, relations between the United States and Taiwan have suffered from a lack of communication due to the self-imposed restrictions that the United States maintains on high-level visits with Taiwan” [emphasis added].
Indeed, after 22 years, whether the US government should conduct another Review is ultimately for the American people to decide—and must be based on national interests. But this decision about whether to conduct a review, whether with a capital or lowercase “r,” should also take into consideration American values, the self-imposed nature of the restrictions that govern engagement with Taiwan, and ultimately the importance of soft-balancing for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The main point: Whether the United States should conduct another review, capital “r” or otherwise, is ultimately for the American people to decide—and should be decided based on its interests, values, the self-imposed nature of restrictions on engagement with Taiwan, and the need for more soft-balancing in the Taiwan Strait.
 Russell Hsiao, “US-Taiwan Relations: Hobson’s Choice and the False Dilemma,” in Strategic Asia 2014–15: US Alliances and Partnerships at the Center of Global Power, ed. Ashley Tellis et al. (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2014), 257-287.