Monday, April 5, 2004

Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA has succeeded beyond all expectations in preserving the peace in the Taiwan Strait and providing a context for growth in America’s relationship with both the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. The TRA is the product of a happy marriage between deft diplomacy and the power of the United States to assist in the advancement of freedom. With this unique and subtle legislation, Congress created the framework for an enduring “status quo” in a dynamic and changing region. It is remarkable that the status quo should be maintained among three countries that have traveled such disparate paths of growth and change in the two-and-a-half decade life of the TRA.

This anniversary comes at a useful moment. The recent referendum on Taiwan, China’s objections to it and the meddlesome U.S. response to those concerns have led some to believe that the balance established under the TRA might be undone. Recent frictions must not be ignored, but in the context of the quarter-century of peace under the TRA, they are perhaps less troubling.

Over the last 25 years, Taiwan’s de facto independence has become more obvious, even though the United States formally recognizes only the people of Taiwan, and not its government. While maintaining a separate relationship with Taiwan on many levels, U.S. policy asserts that there is but one China. While asserting that Taiwan is a part of China, the rulers in Beijing do not move to take that island. While operating in most respects as a state separate from China, Taiwan takes care, even now, to avoid asserting its independence. And so this delicate arrangement endures year after year. Why?

One answer is the TRA. Another is the power of freedom. While the “status quo” has been maintained, Taiwan has galloped into the future, building its once-meager economy into one of the biggest and most dynamic on earth, and, not coincidentally, building its political system into a real, thriving, even at times raucous, democracy. Even Beijing has experimented with freedom in the economic sphere, tempted by the opportunity, growth and prosperity that comefromunfettered human initiative. Perhaps political freedom will follow one day. Taiwan gives the lie to the myth that Asian societies are somehow inhospitable to political democracy and the free market.

We have seen a demonstration of a truth always known to Americans: freedom and liberty are friends of stability. That is a principle that has been on our minds in recent years, as terrorism has sprung from failed and repressive states. The power of freedom and the power of the United States, joined with the generally skillful efforts of five presidential administrations and some thoughtful choices in Taipei and Beijing, have made the TRA work.

East Asia and the world will change even more in the 25 years to come, but still we will rely on the TRA to help preserve the balance. How do we go forward with that goal? First, we remain faithful in our commitment to the free people of Taiwan, and we keep our commitment to the rulers in Beijing. There is tension between those commitments, but that tension has been manageable, and even useful, since 1979. That tension will ebb and flow, but must in the long run be diminished by the growth of economic freedom and liberty on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. We will safeguard the freedom of Taiwan and we will build our relationship with China. And the Taiwan Relations Act will guide us for many more years.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe.

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