US Deepens Ties With Taiwan

Declassified cable highlights policy commitments made by Reagan
September 2, 2020 Updated: September 2, 2020

News Analysis

The United States took a decisive step closer toward deepening its long-term strategic ties to Taiwan this week.

A senior U.S. State Department official announced that “a new bilateral economic dialogue,” is being established between the United States and Taiwan. The dialogue will include “the full spectrum of our economic relationship…with technology at the core.”

At the same time, the U.S. sent a strong message to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that America’s support for Taiwan is firmly rooted in historical precedent, and presidential power and prerogative.

The Six Assurances

David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, addressing the Heritage Foundation by virtual forum Monday, said that Taiwan “is a vision of how much the Chinese people can achieve.”

“Until recently,” Stilwell said, “Hong Kong provided a similar vision.”

Stilwell’s comment refers to how the National Security Law imposed by the CCP on July 1 of this year changed the situation in Hong Kong. The law effectively deprives the territory’s citizens of their right to free speech and political protest, which they had been guaranteed until 2047 under the terms of the handover treaty that defined Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

In summarizing the economic, diplomatic, and military activity between the United States and Taiwan in recent months, Stilwell emphasized that America’s relations with Taiwan are grounded not only in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, but also in a set of principles outlined by U.S. President Ronald Reagan during his first term in office.

That framework is enshrined in a recently declassified cable sent from the U.S. State Department to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on Aug. 17, 1982.

AIT is the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan, established after the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China in 1979. AIT is a private, non-profit corporation through which, by contract, the U.S. government conducts its official affairs in Taiwan.

The opening line of the cable reads, “Concerning Taiwan’s request to make public President Reagan’s assurances.”

The cable instructs AIT to tell Taiwanese officials that in their public statement, “there should of course be no linkage to President Reagan.”

Therefore, Taiwan’s officials could only broadcast that their understanding of the American position came through “appropriate channels.”

Thus, although what are called the “Six Assurances” have been known for nearly 40 years, and even codified into a House of Representatives resolution in 2016, the proof that they formed the bedrock of Reagan’s personal approach to Taiwan has now been declassified.

The Six Assurances include an American commitment to not set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan, and a promise that the U.S. “has not agreed to prior consultation with Beijing” on any arms sales that the United States might make to Taiwan.

The assurances also state that the United States hasn’t agreed “on any mediation role between Beijing and Taipei,” and that the United States “has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.”

Finally, the United States reassured Taiwan that it “has not agreed to take any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan,” and that it “will never pressure Taiwan to negotiate with Beijing.”

U.S.-Taiwan Activity Accelerates

Stilwell recapped the depth and variety of U.S.-Taiwan official and commercial engagement over the last few months.

Most significant diplomatically was Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s trip to Taiwan in mid-August.

Azar is the highest ranked U.S. government official to visit Taiwan in the 41 years, since the United States switched recognition to Beijing.

Then in late August, a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, “expanding cooperation on data protection, freedom, and human rights” was signed between AIT and the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, Stilwell said.

Commercially, TSMC, Taiwan’s “world-leading semiconductor company,” Stilwell noted, announced in May its plans to invest $12 billion in Arizona “to manufacture the world’s most advanced semiconductor chips for use in 5G and other applications” in the United States.

TSMC’s investment “will shift critical technology supply chains back to the United States,” Stilwell said, protecting them “from theft and manipulation by malign actors,” a direct swipe at China’s CCP-led technology sector.

Policy Adjustment, Not Policy Abandonment

Stilwell indicated that recent and future agreements with Taiwan are policy adjustments, not an abandonment of the U.S. One-China Policy.

Noting a range of targeted military, cyber, political, and economic threats and actions on Taiwan from Beijing, Stilwell said that “the peace and stability of the Western Pacific” is threatened.

Reagan was equally steadfast in his support for Taiwan.

In his April 1984 visit to China, Chinese leaders pressured Reagan to stop selling arms to Taiwan, and to convince Taiwan to accept Beijing’s reunification offers.

Reagan refused, in keeping with his Six Assurances commitments, and much to the appreciation of Taiwan’s leaders then and now.