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.
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.
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.
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.