Both panels were recorded live at a roundtable event, hosted by ICRT, the International College Provisional Office of the National Taiwan University, and the American Institute in Taiwan at the National Taiwan University, entitled "Taiwan Relations Act at 40 Where We’ve Been, and What’s Next."
The event brought together former and current Taiwanese and American Government officials and academics to discuss the history and future of the accord that has been the cornerstone for Taiwan US relations since 1979.
The first panel titled "TRA Foundation for Progress" is hosted by American Chamber of Commerce Taipei President, William Foreman. It looks at the history of the act and features American Institute in Taiwan Chairman, James Moriarty, former AmCham head Robert Parker, and Academia Sinica research fellow, Joanne Chang.
Thank you very much. I’m delighted to moderate this panel this morning. The subject is TRA Foundation for Progress. We’re going to be looking at the history of the TRA from different perspectives. I’m delighted to have such a great panel. I’ll introduce everyone, starting from my right, Robert Parker.
Mr. Robert Parker practice international business law in Taipei, Washington, DC, and San Francisco for four decades. He established two successful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. He was awarded Taiwan’s highest civilian honor. That’s the Order of Brilliant Star for his contributions to US Taiwan relations.
Most interesting for us today is he was the AmCham, American Chamber of Commerce’s chairman. I think the title then was president before we’ve changed the nomenclature when the US brought off official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. He played a very active, critical role in drafting the TRA.
Next down the line, Ambassador James Moriarty. He’s the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Institute in Taiwan since October 2016. He’s been the director for China Affairs at the National Security Council. That was from 2001 to 2002.
Finally, at the very end, we have Dr. Chang Jaw Ling. She served as the deputy representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US from 2004 to 2006, she’s also deputy secretary general of the National Security Council from 2006 to 2008. She’s currently an adjunct research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute for European and American Studies.
Very honored to be with you today, and let’s start the discussion. The first question I would like to ask Ambassador Moriarty, if we could just imagine a world without the TRA, what would that look like? What would this strategic part of the world be like?
Very much awake. I want to start off by saying that everybody is always taught to be careful about hypotheticals, but this is such an important hypothetical that I’m going to grapple with it head on. Basically, what the Taiwan Relations Act did was, it gave a legal basis for US relations with Taiwan.
Just as importantly, that means that it gave the US a legal basis to consider Taiwan’s security an important interest to the United States of America. The Taiwan Relations Act put in wording with respect to security, that I don’t think the administration at that point had really expected, or frankly, actually very much welcomed.
What the Taiwan Relations Act did was, it made it clear that it had to be US policy that that could not happen through the application of force, through coercion, the threat of force. That led to a different world. It led to a world where it helped the democratic institutions of Taiwan flourish.
Frankly, the other side of the strait knows that we view stability in the strait, that we view the future of Taiwan as very important issues, and that the future of Taiwan can only be settled at some point to the satisfaction of the peoples on both side of the Taiwan Strait.
It was incredibly far sighted. The alternatives are very ugly to look at increasing coercion, perhaps no development of the democratic institutions here. I’m very thankful to a very, very wise Act of Congress signed by President Carter, that helped establish and continue the stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Whenever I hear people advocating for, "Well, Taiwan is so important to China. Therefore, we have to listen to the Chinese, listen to their concerns," those concerns are usually what we call the velvet glove over the iron hand. The implication is that we would stand by while the mainland implemented a much more aggressive policy.
Mr. Parker, I’d like to ask you a question. I think I’ve read something that you’ve said, that I think is really fascinating, about derecognition. You said this is a crisis that virtually everyone had seen coming, and no one was prepared for.
I’d like to have you talk a little bit about your experience in playing this key role in drafting the TRA. Especially, I’d very much like to hear a description of your experience testifying before Congress in 1979, and how this testimony led to the TRA. More specifically, how receptive was Congress to proposals for changing the Carter administration’s proposed legislation?
I think it’s fair to say that we had certain hopes in that rather long period before the normalization with China and derecognition of Taiwan. Those of us here had hopes that the terms on which that change would take place would be more reasonable, more favorable to Taiwan than they turned out to be.
In our view, the Carter administration largely capitulated to China’s terms in doing that. We had hoped for example that the embassy here, although that was going to be going away, might be converted into a consulate, like the consulate in Hong Kong, and that there would be that element of official relations kept in place, and so on.
As a result, those of us here really had to scramble to try to put together a coherent position that we wanted to advocate to the Congress, and at the same time deal with the local institutions here that were affected by the break in relations. I think there probably had not been a full recognition up to that point of how much the infrastructure of daily life in Taiwan for Americans and American business dependent on the US military presence.
Specifically, the Mutual Defense Treaty and the agreement under that called the SOFA agreement, S O F A, Status of Forces Agreement, because it was really under the SOFA agreement that institutions important to Americans and American business here existed.
That included the Taipei American School. It included the radio station in those days called American Forces Network Taiwan, AFNT, the premises that were occupied by American institutions. All of it really rested on the foundation of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the SOFA agreement.
When we realized that those were going to be gone, completely gone, that we would have to reinvent a structure of life here in Taiwan at the same time that we were advocating for a Taiwan Relations Act in Washington that would provide the legal framework going forward that American business and American families needed.
I think at that time, you were given the nickname the underground ambassador because of your involvement, the amount of time, and how much you dedicated to keeping things running and helping with the TRA. How did you do that while holding down a job at your busy law firm?
It did take all my time. The nickname was partly a compliment and partly a tease. I wasn’t called the underground ambassador within AmCham. Our Taiwan friends used that moniker to talk about me. It came about first during that period when there was no embassy and the interim before AIT was set up.
Life went on as usual, the parties and the banquets and so on to which the American ambassador would ordinarily have been invited. Since there was no American ambassador and not yet an AIT director, they invited me. I was in conversation with some of our Taiwan friends. They said that they called me the underground ambassador.
Dr. Chang, I wanted to ask you a question. We talked a little earlier. You used the phrase that I thought was very interesting that we were talking about the positive foundation that the TRA has provided.
You mentioned that the US has had many belts and roads that have helped Taiwan that have grown out of this relationship over the past 40 years. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the positive side of the foundation that the TRA has laid down. Thank you.
Thank you very much. It’s a great honor for me to be here, sitting with Jim, Mr. Parker, and you. I remember President Kennedy in 1961 he said one good remark. He says, "Victory has 1,000 fathers. Defeat is an orphan." Looking back 40 years now, and we found Taiwan Relation Act was a success story.
I realized there are thousand fathers. American Chamber of Commerce is one of them. Today, I brought the 1979 congressional hearing report. Parker’s then chairman and made a very lengthy statement. Even 40 years later, I think those recommendation are valid. I would hope you can distribute and also reminded yourself what you did 40 years ago.
Taiwan Relation Act with 424 members of Senate and member from House, many of them consider they are father of Taiwan Relations Act. All of them are not only father, I’m sure there were female member of US Congress. They were mothers.
A lot of the question raised, including one the reporter asked me about Taiwan Relations Act. I personally think Taiwan Relation Act is the beginning of congressional effort to pass legislation to enhance Taiwan and US relations. After all, in 1978, December 15, President Carter gave us seven hours’ notice. US Taiwan relation at that time was falling apart.
US Congress seized the moment, tried very hard to mobilize support, and pass the TRA. A legislation can be a cold legislation with no warm human being feeling. Taiwan Relation Act, over the 40 years, we have seen evolution.
For example, 1979, it was 96 Congress. From 96 Congress until 2013, 2014, cumulatively, each year, there were more than several dozens of proposed legislation resolution related to Taiwan. Many of them became blocked. This is the beginning of congressional effort to pass legislation to enhance US Taiwan relation.
Last year, we have seen the concrete report of Taiwan Travel Act and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, and now, one after another. We should not just look at Taiwan Relation as such. Cumulatively, there are so many.
For example, Director Christensen has mentioned of WHO. Personally, I wrote a article on WHO/WHA. From 1999 to 2004, the US Congress passed five resolution and later became US domestic law, to support Taiwan’s participation in WHO/WHA.
These are concrete example of congressional effort to help Taiwan to participate in international organization. That’s part of the effort. Over the 40 years, I can cite too many. 2002, for example, the 2003 fiscal year, and the US Congress add something inside in consider Taiwan’s a major non NATO Allies.
Dr. Chang makes a really important point that we sometimes overlook. That is that the enactment of legislation is not just the functioning of machinery. These are human beings. The human factor enters into it and did enter into it in a big way when it came to the TRA.
Specifically, President Carter did us a backhanded favor by his very maladroit, poor handling of the Congress before he announced the change in relations. Three months before, Congress had passed a resolution, almost unanimously, putting the president on notice that he should not do anything to terminate the mutual defense treaty without consultations with Congress.
He didn’t. No such consultations took place. If Carter had brought in key members of Congress, powerful senators, important committee chairmen from the House, huddled with them privately, and put an arm around them, and brought them in, giving them a feeling that they were part of a historic change in American foreign policy.
He might have gotten a very different act, one that we wouldn’t have liked nearly as much. He didn’t do that, and Congress was furious. Because of their anger at Carter, they were wide open receptive to the proposals that we made for a better bill.
There were other things that worked in our favor. Carter’s bill was poorly drawn, and so it was easy for us to attack, and hard for the State Department witnesses to defend. The other witnesses on the private side tended to address issues that were strategic, or political, or academic.
We were really the only ones, AmCham, addressing the practical issue faced by Americans and American business in Taiwan, and the need for a sufficient legal framework for the continuation of normal trade and investment, and other relations between the United States and Taiwan.
As a result, the committee staffers who actually drafted the TRA paid attention, and went back to our written testimony, and told us, when they came at our congressional delegation later, that they had gone back and consulted AmCham’s testimony numerous times in the drafting of the TRA, certainly made us feel good.
Many of you in AmCham involved in this were working for multinationals that were probably thinking of doing business in China eventually. I’m just curious what the home offices thought about this, what kind of messages your memberships were getting from...
You’re exactly right. The home offices had already began to have dreams of sugarplums about the opportunity of the market in China. Our AmCham members here in Taiwan were of course just the Taiwan arm of those companies, and couldn’t go off in a completely different direction.
What we did, starting with a couple of years before I was chairman, when "Dutch" Van Gessel was chairman of AmCham, we laid down a policy that said, "AmCham Taipei does not oppose US improving relations with the PRC, provided it’s not done at the expense of Taiwan."
The atmosphere in Taiwan when the derecognition announcement, as we called it, was made, was, of course, an outburst of emotion. People were hurt. They were angry, but I thought one of the fascinating aspects of it was that the mood was not anti American. It was anti Carter and his administration.
For the Americans who were here, it was just the opposite. The Americans in Taiwan were embraced by Taiwanese, sometimes literally embraced. [laughs] People would come up, and grab your hand on the street, and say, "We’ll always be friends, never mind Carter. Taiwan and America will always be friends."
Without that security safety net, the economic relationship, the people to people relationship would have become much more difficult pretty quickly in the sense that, as you’ve seen recently, the temptation would be on the part of the folks across the strait to try and increasingly restrict contacts between the United States and the people of Taiwan in almost every area.
Folks within any administration that argued that "Well, this is a very important relationship for China. Therefore, we have to listen to the Chinese," would not have to explain how that was in conformity with the US strategic interests expressed by Congress, and, importantly, signed into law. That’s the difference here.
This was not a resolution. It was not a sense of the Congress statement. It was US law, binding on future administrations, that would have to be changed by the Congress to say, "Well, we’re not going to conduct this sort of people to people relationship because the Chinese are upset with it.
"We’re going to allow them to sanction US companies who continue to work on Taiwan, but want to do work on the mainland." It gave an underpinning for everything we wanted to do. It made an ability for an administration to unilaterally change practice with respect to Taiwan impossible.
Dr. Chang, I wanted to ask you, you did a wonderful job talking about the benefits, the positive aspects of the foundation that the TRA has created. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the setbacks. We’re not being negative here. It’s constructive criticism that every policy, every law needs.
Thank you very much. I think at the first 10 years, even first 20 years, the implementation of Taiwan Relation Act sometime is inconsistent. It’s up to the administration to really implement. A law can be cold law and can be neglected.
A law like Taiwan Relation Act can be warm, or even now, I feel passionate toward this law because it has contribute so much. Nevertheless, during the past 40 years, we have seen from time to time, there is vacillation, inconsistency.
For example, 1982, the August 17 communiqué signed by US and China, I think it’s inconsistent with Taiwan Relations Act. In 1994, the Clinton administration, the ban of travel of top Taiwan leadership is another one, because the TRA did not mention about that.
Later, in 1998, June 30th, when President Clinton was in Shanghai, he mentioned three no’s. All this, in a way, indicated that a law is just a law, but it require a lot of effort by the US administration.
Today, we have seen the Trump administration, actually, starting from the Obama administration, they kept mention Taiwan as a vital partner of rebalanced policy, as a key element of rebalanced policy during the Obama administration.
Now, we are a contributing factor for the goodness of the earth, but still, we need to remind ourself it happened in the past. We hope we can prevent any inconsistency violating the spirit in the language of Taiwan Relations Act.
I remember, not long ago, 2009, 2011, 2012, different US former official for example mentioned about arm sale to Taiwan should be reconsider. Because cross strait relation was good, there may be less need for US arm sales to Taiwan, not long ago. The current feeling is a great feeling, but we should not be obsessed with it.
We need to continue to work out our democracy, not perfect, but still one of the best in Asia. I remember Freedom House gave us grade of our democracy freedom higher than United States, last year and this year as well. We surpass the United States in terms of democracy, rated by the Freedom House. I like to say because TRA has a provision about the US concern of human rights.
Very often, we heard from Carter administration former official say, "Well, the recognition contribute to Taiwan’s democracy." I say, "Hey, wait a minute. How about give China a try, see whether the recognition of China will help to be a democratic political systems? What about Cuba?"
We went through very difficult process. Many fighter in Taiwan in the ’80s and they were jailed, but US concern about Taiwan’s human right records and many other issues also help Taiwan to remobilize ourself to gradually become a multi party systems, and become democratization, and without any blood.
Mr. Parker, I’m wondering if you can share some of your reflections about the early days, just after the passage of the TRA. I understand that the State Department imposed some rather onerous restrictions, especially on contact between US and Taiwan officials, flights, this type of thing.
These are restrictions that really weren’t called for by the TRA. They weren’t required by the TRA, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that. I understand after President Carter left office, these restrictions were reversed, but what was going on in the early days?
There was a lot of history behind that. In part, you could say that, certainly accurately, that the Carter administration didn’t like the TRA. They wanted something very different in the omnibus legislation that they had put forward, and that the Congress scrapped.
There’s further history beyond that, too, that goes all the way back to America’s policy toward China in the late ’40s, early ’50s, the so called who lost China debate in Washington, and a lot of turmoil that caused, particularly within the State Department, and led to the removal of some people and career difficulties for others.
That led to the emergence of a core of people in the State Department who were much more sympathetic toward the PRC and saw Taiwan as an obstacle to improving relations with the PRC, rather than looking at Taiwan primarily as a great American friend.
When the derecognition took place and the TRA was enacted, there were a number of factors that came into play, some pressure from the PRC, but a lot of it growing out of this animosity you have to call it that toward Taiwan, on the part of certain people who were in the State Department and whose careers, they felt, had been adversely affected by previous policy.
One of the five people in the Carter administration who played a key role in the normalization of relations with China was the assistant secretary for Asia, Richard Holbrooke. Dick Holbrooke was no friend of Taiwan.
If any one individual could be pointed to as the author of those rather onerous requirements that forbid officials from meeting one another in their offices, and required congressional delegation aircraft that came to Taiwan to take off and fly to Guam, and sit on the tarmac in Guam rather than be on the tarmac in Taipei, silly requirements like that.
I had a conversation with Holbrooke at one point and upbraided him on that, and he came right back at me. He was a very smart guy, but very arrogant. He said, "Well, I can say that the staff or other people in the State Department were responsible for that," but he thumped his chest and said, "I did it." [laughs]
Yes, he was very much trying to ingratiate himself with the PRC, and I think he did a good job of that. [laughs] He was also involved in another dust up that he and I had, that came right out of the TRA. The administration said that all of the treaties and agreements between the US and Taiwan, other than the Mutual Defense Treaty, would continue in effect.
Five months later, by coincidence, I happened to be in China when Vice President Mondale was there because all of the Asian AmCham chairmen were there. Mondale announced that the US had entered into a new air transportation agreement with the PRC, and was terminating the air transportation agreement with Taiwan.
There was media in the room and there were PRC people. I waited until they were out, and I said, "Mr. Vice President, with all due respect, that violates the TRA." Of course, he got Holbrooke, sitting right next to him, he turns and clears it with Holbrooke.
That night, Holbrooke and I have another head to head dust up and I said, "Look. The real issue here is whether you see this as precedent for terminating other agreements with Taiwan." Holbrooke comes back and said, "Of course. It’s consistent with our whole policy of improving relations and expanding our relationship with the PRC."
I said, "Well, I’m sorry, but it violates the TRA." [laughs] I went back and I sent cables to key members of Congress. Congress really read the Riot Act to Holbrooke and the State Department, and that was the end of that kind of nonsense.
We will soon move into the question and answer part of our program but I thought before we did that, if any of the panelists had any further thoughts, anything that they would like to add? Ambassador Moriarty?
I will quickly add that what we’re hearing from both sides of me is a back handed endorsement of the wisdom of the act itself, that basically, Congress set limits to what any administration could do vis à vis trying to "improve relations with China."
Basically, they had to look at the act and realize that they can’t willy nilly cancel treaties, that they have to agree to the basic terms, that there are limits as to how much any administration can do and yet stay within the confines of the Taiwan Relations Act. It’s very wise.
A quick comment. Basically, what you’ve seen is, there are two factors at play here. Congress is well aware that you now have a solidified democracy in Taiwan that does all the great things that we heard about this morning. That is a really responsible player on the international scene, a terrific partner as we look at an Indo Pacific strategy.
There’s also a dawning recognition, again, as we heard this morning, that China views itself as a competitor with the United States. Therefore, the United States has to see itself as a competitor with China.
That will conclude our first panel discussion on Taiwan Relations Act, Foundation for Progress, 1979 to present. Once again, thanks to our panel members, Joanne Chang of Academia Sinica, James Moriarty, AIT chairman, Robert Parker, former AmCham president, and of course our moderator, Mr. William Foreman.