Taiwan Security Enhancement Act - An Overview


On February 1, the United States House of Representatives approved the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) in a bi-partisan vote of 341 to 70. The bill, authored by representatives Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) and Sam Gejdensen (D-CT), is considered by many policy analysts as a re-affirmation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) passed by Congress in 1979 to reassure Taiwan of the United States’ commitment to its security after the termination of diplomatic relations. TSEA still faces a vote in the Senate and a presidential veto before it could become law.

The most significant provisions of the new legislation would require "direct secure communications" between the militaries in the United States and Taiwan. The legislation also would increase the number of Taiwanese officers that are trained in U.S. military schools and the number of U.S. technical staff who are stationed in the American Institute in Taiwan. Also, the bill would require the Administration to consult Cong-ress in determining Taiwan’s defense needs and U.S. sales of military arms and services—a stipulation of the TRA which some proponents of TSEA claim has not been observed by the Administration.

Supporters and Critics

The majority of the legislation’s supporters in the House vote are pro-Taiwan Republicans and Democrats. Policymakers and analysts in favor of the bill point to the increasing security threat China poses regionally, citing the recent rapid modernization of China’s military, acceleration of its missile deployments, and purchases of high-technology from Russia. Proponents claim the bill sends a clear reminder to Beijing of the United States’ long-standing commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan reunification issue.

The strongest opponent of TSEA is the Clinton Administration. Officials in the National Security Agency and State Department have stated the bill decreases security in Taiwan and East Asia, contrary to the intentions of the legislation’s supporters. Many policy analysts in and out of government who oppose TSEA claim that the bill provokes Beijing by making an unambiguous indication of the United States’ intentions to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities and willingness to become involved in potential cross-strait military scenarios. In addition, the legislation does not improve the current U.S. policy towards Taiwan.

Responses in China / Taiwan

Chinese officials in Beijing strongly condemned the House vote on TSEA, claiming that it would directly interfere in China’s domestic matters and undermine the basis of Sino-U.S. relations if passed as law. Though Taiwanese officials generally welcomed the motion of support in the Congress, they were careful to restrain enthusiasm to avoid exacerbating tensions in the Taiwan Straits prior to the second national presidential elections held on March 18. Taiwan’s first democratic election in 1996 was extremely tense—China test-fired missiles off the coast of Taiwan to protest the election and to threaten against candidates’ proposals to formally declare Taiwan’s independence from the mainland.

While Taiwan’s recent election was held peacefully with the victory of pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian, in the weeks prior to March 18 Beijing unleashed a war of words. On February 28, the Chinese government released a white paper on its policy toward Taiwan, sparking a stream of rhetoric from Beijing aimed at discouraging Taiwanese voters to elect a pro-independence candidate. The threat had no significant impact on voters in Taiwan, as is evident from Chen’s election. The white paper, viewed in-part as a response to the U.S. Congress’ provocative TSEA, reiterated and intensified Beijing’s position on cross-strait relations. It repeated past claims that any announcement of independence by Taiwan or foreign intervention (by the United States) would be grounds for war. Also stated was a new condition that "indefinite" delay of negotiations by Taiwan on reunification could lead to military conflict.

Implications

If the bill survives the Senate vote and prospects of a presidential veto, it will undoubtedly create a new source of tension in cross-strait tensions and Sino-U.S. relations. Beijing will most likely view TSEA as a blatant violation of China’s sovereign affairs and an unwelcome attempt to influence the course of China’s relationship with Taiwan. However, most analysts agree that it is unlikely that TSEA will be approved by the Senate. The legacy of the bill will probably be a symbolic gesture of support to Taiwan and warning signal to Beijing.

Domestically,TSEA could contribute to the granting of permanent normal trade relations status when voted in Congress in May. Even if the Taiwan bill does not become legalized, pro-Taiwan members of Congress are thought to be more likely to approve permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China when balanced with a pro-Taiwan vote on their recordbook.


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