What you need to know
The new law contains concrete measures encouraging US-Taiwan cooperation, writes Kent Wang.
On Dec. 31, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which tries to counter China’s growing military influence. The act establishes a multifaceted U.S. strategy to increase U.S. security and values in the Indo-Pacific region. It was designed to counter the encroaching influence and growing threat from China, and to reinvigorate U.S. leadership in the region. This legislation further reiterates American commitment to Taiwan's security, supports closer Taiwan-U.S. relations, and affirms the value of U.S. partnership with Taiwan and other countries in the region.
Passed on Dec. 4 and Dec. 12 by the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, the law serves as a framework to improve U.S. leadership in the region and demonstrates its commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and rules-based international order.
In a dedicated section on Taiwan, the act states that it is the policy of the U.S. to support the close economic, political and security relationship between the two sides and faithfully enforce all existing commitments consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and Six Assurances.
With China’s increasingly assertive rise, it is critical that the United States reaffirm the commitment to securing a free and open Indo-Pacific region through enhanced cooperation with our democratic partners. This important piece of legislation will do just that by creating a framework for U.S. policy throughout the region on several key areas including trade, promotion of human rights, counterterrorism programs, and many other national security priorities. Furthermore, the bill also reaffirms the U.S. position that cross-strait disputes must reach a peaceful resolution acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Taking a longer view, this legislation reflects the region’s importance by addressing key challenges, including prioritizing reasonable and effective nonproliferation policies and promoting the freedom of navigation in maritime Asia, and defending human rights and the respect for democratic values. The Act further includes “supporting the efforts of Taiwan to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities, as appropriate, including mobile and cost-effective capabilities, into its military forces.” The bill also states that it is the policy of the U.S. to support the close economic, political and security relationship with Taiwan to faithfully enforce all existing U.S. government commitments to Taiwan.
By all accounts, Taiwan is expected to remain a major flashpoint for China and the U.S. despite the election defeat of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last November. As a corollary, there will likely be even greater Chinese infiltration in Taiwan in the future. In particular, China’s growing military and economic capabilities are limiting strategic options for Taiwan and present an immediate and existential threat to Taiwan. The ARIA puts a strong emphasis where it should, which is addressing how the U.S. can work more closely and strengthen the relationship with Taiwan and other allies. This bipartisan ARIA further reiterates U.S. policy as countering efforts to change the status quo and supporting a “peaceful resolution acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
U.S. relations with Asian allies, partners, and adversaries will dominate the 21st century, and the Washington needs a clear set of strategic policies to bolster U.S. national security and economic interests, framed in the values that define what America is – democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law.
This legislation mentions Taiwan, saying the U.S. should make regular arms sales to Taiwan tailored to countering threats from China, including supporting Taiwan to develop "asymmetric capability", and that the U.S. should encourage the travel of high-level Taiwan officials to the U.S. It is truly comprehensive, as it is not simply looking at North Korea or China, nor is it simply engaging in China-bashing.
U.S. foreign policy is always best conducted in a bipartisan fashion, and this legislation exemplifies that spirit. As the weaker power in cross-Strait relations, it makes good strategic sense for Taiwan to have the support of Washington in case Beijing changes its intentions. In truth, Taiwan cannot rest its security on the goodwill of China. This latest bipartisan initiative shows of support for the self-ruled island amid escalating cross-strait tensions. The situation in the Taiwan Strait is treacherous. Without U.S. support, the island would be vulnerable to being taken over by force by Beijing.
As a mature democracy, Taiwan has demonstrated that it values positive attitudes, pragmatism and sincerity. The U.S. must to continue to support Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty. Strengthening relations with Taiwan can help the island better protect its security.
About the author: Kent Wang is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies who publishes frequently on the Taiwan issue in Sino-American relations, as well as other topics on East Asian international politics and regional security.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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