US House Passes Taiwan Assurance Act: Pro-Taiwan Resolution
The United States House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Assurance Act in a voice vote that had no recorded objection from the floor in the afternoon of May 7, 2019, before agreeing on a non-binding House Resolution “reaffirming the United States commitment to Taiwan” in the evening of the same day.
The two pro-Taiwan legislative moves, which drew anger from the Chinese foreign ministry, comes in the midst of stalling trade talks between the US and China and increasing US concern regarding Taiwan’s situation in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
The current underlying legal framework for US-Taiwan relations is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), signed into law on April 10, 1979, by then-US President Jimmy Carter after Washington terminated formal relations with Taipei (officially the “Republic of China”) and established formal relations with Beijing (officially the “People’s Republic of China”).
Under the TRA, and later clarified in successive diplomatic notes and government resolutions, the US is obliged to supply “arms of a defensive character” to Taiwan, to consider any “effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means” as threatening the “peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern” to the US, and to maintain US capacity “to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.”
The last open demonstration of US commitments to Taiwan via military force was during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, in which then-President Bill Clinton deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups to “neutralize” the Taiwan Strait in the face of missile testing by China in the Strait mere weeks before Taiwan’s first open and direct presidential election in March 1996. However, such demonstrations are a rarity in the US-Taiwan-China relationship triangle, with the US deliberately maintaining a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan in order to avoid any large and protracted diplomatic row with China, dissuade any unilateral action by either Taiwan (via pursuing independence) or China (via military action), and leave the US a way out of any concrete security guarantee for the self-ruled island in the event of a conflict.
Since the elections of Tsai Ing-wen (of the pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party, DPP) and Donald Trump (R) and to the presidencies on Taiwan in January 2016 and the United States in November 2016, respectively, the US has moved to strengthen ties and tentatively expand its diplomatic contact with Taiwan amid a deteriorating US-China relationship; likewise, amid an increasingly frostier China-Taiwan relationship, Taiwan has sought out more concrete US commitments and support to stave off a rising China.
A bipartisan group of US senators introduced preliminary legislation in late March this year to “enhance the US-Taiwan relationship and bolster Taiwan’s participation in the international community.” The legislation, under the name of the Taiwan Assurance Act, would require the US President review the US State Department’s guidelines on relations with Taiwan, order the US defense secretary to include Taiwan in bilateral and multilateral military exercises, and cement US policy to push for Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in international organizations.
The US House began formal consideration of the bill by April, where the bill was quickly moved through committee without much amendment within a month. Additionally, a bipartisan group of House members proposed an additional resolution to reconfirm the US commitment to Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the “Six Assurances,” where it also easily sailed through the committee stage without any amendments.
Ultimately, after Representative Albio Sires (D-N.J.) moved on the floor of the House on May 7 to suspend the rules and agree to the bill, the House concluded debate on the matter — with Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the only other speaker, also urging the House to assent to the bill — within seven minutes and agreed to the motion by voice vote, thus adopting the Taiwan Assurance Act at 4:08 p.m.
Rep. Sires then moved for the House to do the same for House Resolution 273, the additional resolution “reaffirming the United States commitment to Taiwan and to the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act.” After a twenty minute debate on the resolution, Rep. McCaul requested a roll call vote; per the rules of the House, the chamber went into recess and reconvened at 6:30 p.m., upon which the vote was promptly taken. The House thus adopted the resolution with 414 votes for and none against, with 17 members not voting.
The Taiwan Assurance Act now heads to the Senate for approval. Should it be approved, it still needs to be signed by President Trump for it to become law.