January 6: A Conversation with Former Congressman Lester Wolff

January 6: A Conversation with Former Congressman Lester Wolff

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 from 9:00 AM-10:00 AM (EST)
Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to an online conversation with Lester Wolff, former Democratic congressman from New York and author of the new book The Legislative Intent of the Taiwan Relations Act: A Dilemma Wrapped in an Enigma.
Since its passage in 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act has served as the foundation of the US relationship with Taiwan, providing a legal framework for navigating the complex state of affairs in the Taiwan Strait. Now, as tensions between the United States and China have reached their highest point in decades and as China ratchets up its pressure against Taiwan, the TRA has only grown in salience. During his time in Congress, Wolff was deeply involved in the US-China-Taiwan relationship, leading a congressional delegation to China and serving as one of the key architects of the TRA. In his new book, The Legislative Intent of the Taiwan Relations Act, Wolff reflects on the history and reasoning behind the TRA, providing valuable context for a critical piece of legislation. This virtual seminar will include a discussion about the new book, as well as Wolff’s views on the past, present, and future of US-Taiwan relations.

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, January 6 starting at 9:00AM EST. Questions for the panel may be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org, through the chat function on the YouTube page, and via Twitter by tweeting @globaltaiwan. 

The Author:

The Honorable Lester Wolff is a retired American politician and former Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from New York, serving from 1965 to 1981. During his time in Congress, Wolff acted as Chairman of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Committee, as well as the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. In 1978, he led a congressional delegation to the People’s Republic of China, which included a widely publicized meeting with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Wolff was also one of the key authors of the Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law in 1979. Following his congressional career, he has served as president of the International Trade and Development Agency, director of the Pacific Community Institute at Touro College, and director at the Griffon Corporation. He is the author of several books on foreign policy and has hosted a weekly show on PBS. For his achievements, Wolff received the World Peace Prize Top Honor in 2010, as well as the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. 

Event Summary:

On January 6, 2021, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual conversation with former US Congressman Lester Wolff. During the event, GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao interviewed Wolff about his new book, The Legislative Intent of the Taiwan Relations Act: A Dilemma Wrapped in an Enigma, as well as his thoughts on the past, present, and future of US-Taiwan relations.

After wishing Congressman Wolff a happy 102nd birthday, Hsiao began by asking about Wolff’s motivations for writing his newest book. Wolff explained that the historical context of the Taiwan Relations Act is a continuing source of inspiration for him. He recalled his conversations with Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter, which led to the first informal relations between the US and Taiwan. In his discussion of the TRA’s history, Wolff discussed the intentional ambiguity of the Act, which was designed to ensure its passage in the complex domestic political environment in the United States at the time. The US’ fledgling diplomatic relationship with the PRC was also a major concern in Congress and foreign policy circles.

Wolff then discussed some of the considerations involved during the drafting of the TRA in the 1970s. One of the most important was the unequivocal decision not to allow Beijing to have any influence over how Taiwan would be armed and defended. As the PRC has never ruled out the use of force against Taiwan, Wolff argued that the delivery of state-of-the-art weapons to Taiwan is an essential piece of the TRA.

Wolff then responded to Hsiao’s question about the meaning of the word “dilemma” referenced in the title of the book. He explained that the “dilemma” refers to the US policy towards the ambiguous status of Taiwan, and how the US will react if the island officially declares independence. Further, he argued that US legislators must remember that the Taiwan Relations Act is the only piece of US legislation relating to the status of US-Taiwan relations, and that the Three Joint Communiqués between the US and PRC are not binding legal documents. Wolff declined to comment on the possibility of a fourth US-PRC communiqué, but did emphasize the importance of balance and preservation of peace in the trilateral US-Taiwan-China relationship. Hsiao also asked Wolff for his views on the US’ “One-China Policy” as opposed to the PRC’s “One-China Principle.” Wolff reiterated that the US has never conclusively and legally defined what exactly the “One-China Policy” entails, thus enabling the United States to remain both legally and strategically ambiguous in its Taiwan policy.

Wolff stressed the importance of both China and Taiwan avoiding provocative actions, arguing that the continuation of peace has allowed Taiwanese society to flourish. He referred to Taiwan as a “leader in democracy” and called for more effort in acquainting the American people with the importance of Taiwan as a fellow democracy, trade partner, and strategic partner.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2021 Intern Gavin Stark.

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