Taiwan: Political and Security Issues

Updated November 29, 2021
Taiwan: Political and Security Issues
Taiwan, which officially calls itself the Republic of China
2020, Tsai won a second four-year term and her party
(ROC), is an island democracy of 23.6 million people
retained its majority in Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative
located across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China.
Yuan. In her October 10, 2021, national day address, Tsai
U.S.-Taiwan relations have been unofficial since January 1,
called on Taiwan’s people to renew four commitments: to
1979, when the Carter Administration established
“a free and democratic constitutional system,” that the ROC
diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China
and PRC “should not be subordinate to each other,” “to
(PRC) and broke diplomatic ties with self-ruled Taiwan,
resist annexation or encroachment upon our sovereignty,”
over which the PRC claims sovereignty. The 1979 Taiwan
and that Taiwan’s future “must be decided in accordance
Relations Act (TRA, P.L. 96-8; 22 U.S.C. §§3301 et seq.),
with the will of the Taiwanese people.”
provides a legal basis for this unofficial bilateral
relationship. It also includes commitments related to
U.S. Commitments Related to Taiwan
Taiwan’s security. See also CRS In Focus IF10256, U.S.-
The PRC seeks to enforce a “one China principle,” which
Taiwan Trade Relations, by Karen M. Sutter.
defines Taiwan as part of China, and the PRC as the sole
Modern History and Current Events
legal government representing China. The United States
adheres to its own “one-China policy,” guided by the TRA,
In 1949, after losing a civil war on mainland China to the
U.S.-PRC joint communiqués concluded in 1972, 1978, and
Communist Party of China (CPC), the ROC’s then-ruling
1982; and “Six Assurances” that President Ronald Reagan
party, the Kuomintang (KMT), moved the ROC
communicated to Taiwan in 1982. (The Trump
government to Taiwan. The KMT continued to assert that
Administration first moved the TRA ahead of the joint
the ROC was the sole legitimate government of all China
communiqués in the recitation of U.S. policy.) The U.S.
until 1991. In 1971, U.N. General Assembly Resolution
government’s longstanding position has been that Taiwan’s
2758 recognized the PRC’s representatives as “the only
political status remains unresolved.
legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations,”
and expelled “the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek,” the
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has sent mixed messages
ROC’s then-leader. Taiwan remains outside the U.N. today.
about his view of Taiwan’s political s tatus. The PRC
readout of his November 15, 2021, virtual meeting with
Figure 1. Taiwan
PRC President Xi Jinping reported that Biden told Xi, “the
U.S. does not support ‘Taiwan independence.’” President
Bill Clinton was the first U.S. President to make such a
statement, intended to signal that the United States is not
actively encouraging Taiwan to formalize a status as a
sovereign nation separate from China. A senior Biden
Administration official confirmed that Taiwan
independence “is not something that the United States
supports.” On November 16, however, President Biden said
of Taiwan, “It’s independent. It makes its own decisions.”
Asked to clarify those comments, Biden said both, “we are
not encouraging independence” and “they have to decide.”
Key provisions of the TRA include the following:
 Relations with Taiwan shall be carried out through the
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private
corporation. (AIT Taipei performs many of the same
functions as U.S. embassies elsewhere.)
 The United States “will make available to Taiwan such
defense articles and defense services in such quantity as

may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a
Sources: Graphic by CRS. Map generated by Hannah Fischer using
sufficient self-defense capability.”
data from NGA (2017); DoS (2015); Esri (2014); DeLorme (2014).
 “The President is directed to inform the Congress
The KMT maintained authoritarian one-party rule on
promptly of any threat to the security or the s ocial or
Taiwan until 1987, when it yielded to public pressure for
economic system of the people on Taiwan and any
political liberalization. The May 2016 inauguration of
danger to the interests of the United States arising
current President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP) marked Taiwan’s third
therefrom. The President and the Congress shall
determine, ... appropriate action by the United States in
transfer of political power from one party to another. In
response to any such danger.”

Taiw an: Political and Security Issues
In the communiqués, the United States recognized the PRC
including blocking Taiwan’s attendance as an observer at
government as the “sole legal government of China”;
annual World Health Assembly meetings.
acknowledged, but did not endorse, “the Chinese position
Beijing cut off communication with Tsai’s government in
that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China”;
June 2016, citing Tsai’s unwillingness to endorse a formula
and pledged to maintain only unofficial relations with
known as “the 1992 consensus,” under which the KMT and
Taiwan. The 1982 Six Assurances include assurances that
the CPC agreed that Taiwan and mainland China are parts
in negotiating the 1982 U.S.-PRC communiqué, the United
of “one China,” without agreeing on what “China” means.
States did not agree to consult with the PRC on arms sales
In November 2021, the PRC government announced that it
to Taiwan, set a date for ending such arms sales, or “take
had placed Taiwan’s premier, foreign minister, and
any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.”
parliamentary speaker on a blacklist, calling them “‘Taiwan
The TRA does not require the United States to defend
independence’ diehards.” It barred their affiliated
Taiwan, but states that it is U.S. policy to maintain the
institutions from cooperating with PRC entities and their
capacity to do so, creating “strategic ambiguity” about U.S.
financial supporters from doing business in the PRC.
actions in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan. President
Biden Administration Policy
Biden has twice made remarks that appeared to move the
United States toward a position of strategic clarity. Asked
Senior Biden Administration officials have repeatedly
on October 21, 2021, whether “the United States would
raised concerns about the PRC’s “continued military,
come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked,” the President
diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan” and
replied, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” A White
urged Beijing “to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve
House spokesperson later clarified, “The President was not
cross-Strait issues peacefully.” In its readout of the Biden-
announcing any change in our policy.”
Xi virtual meeting, the White House said Biden
underscored “
The PRC, Taiwan, and “One China”
that the United States strongly opposes
unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine
The PRC maintains that mainland China and Taiwan are
peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
parts of “one China” whose sovereignty cannot be divided.
The PRC’s 2005 Anti
The Biden Administration has continued the Trump
-Secession Law commits Beijing to
working toward “peaceful unification” with Taiwan. It
Administration’s policy of working to help Taiwan retain
states, however, that in the case of Taiwan’s “secession”
its remaining diplomatic relationships, as well as expand its
unofficial relationships. The U.S. government involves like-
from China, or if the PRC concludes that possibilities for
minded governments in co-hosting workshops under the
peaceful unification have been exhausted, “the state shall
U.S.-Taiwan-Japan Global Cooperation and Training
employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures
to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Framework. Taiwan is among the 110 invited participants
for the Biden Administration’s Summit for Democracy,
the November 2021 Biden-Xi virtual meeting, President Xi
scheduled for December 9-10, 2021. The United States has
said, “We have patience and will strive for the prospect of
peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts.” He
also supported Taiwan with donations of four million doses
warned, however, that, “should the separatist forces for
of the Moderna Coronavirus Disease 2019 vaccine.
Taiwan independence provoke us, force our hands or even
At the end of the Trump Administration, the State
cross the red line, we will be compelled to take resolute
Department rescinded previous guidance on executive
measures.” He did not define China’s “red line.”
branch contacts with Taiwan, calling the old rules “self-
imposed restrictions of our permanent bureaucracy.” The
In March 2021, then-Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific
State Department issued new guidelines in April 2021,
Command Admiral Philip S. Davidson testified that the
PRC threat to Taiwan could be “manifest” “in the next six
pursuant to the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-
years.” In his own June 2021 testim
260). They encourage working-level meetings with Taiwan
ony, Chairman of the
counterparts in federal buildings, but continue to bar U.S.
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley stated that
while the PRC’s Xi has challenged China’s military to
government displays of Taiwan symbols of sovereignty.
develop the capability to take Taiwan by 2027, Milley does
The United States terminated its Mutual Defense Treaty
not see “the intent to attack or seize in the near term.”
with Taiwan in 1980, but engages with Taiwan’s military
through dialogues, training, and arms sales. In an October
The PRC conducts regular military patrols and exercises
2021 interview with CNN, President Tsai for the first time
around Taiwan, including over 1,000 air sorties into
Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone since September
confirmed the presence of a small number of U.S.
servicemembers on the island. The Biden Administration
2020. PRC-linked actors have targeted Taiwan with
has notified Congress of one proposed Foreign Military
cyberattacks, and the PRC government has sought to isolate
Sales (FMS) case for Taiwan, with a value of $750 million.
Taiwan internationally. Since 2016, 8 former Taiwan
The Trump Administration notified Congress of 20
diplomatic partners have switched diplomatic recognition to
proposed major FMS cases for Taiwan, with a combined
the PRC, leaving Taiwan with 15 diplomatic partners.
value of over $18 billion. The U.S. Navy conducted 13
Taiwan maintains unofficial offices in an additional 59
Taiwan Strait transits in FY2021, including 9 under the
countries, though the PRC insists that the offices not
include the word “Taiwan” in their names.
Biden Administration. In October 2021, the U.S. Navy
In November
conducted a joint transit with ally Canada.
2021, the PRC downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania
after it allowed Taiwan to open a “Taiwanese
Susan V. Lawrence, Specialist in Asian Affairs
Representative Office” in its capital. The PRC has also
worked to exclude Taiwan from international organizations,

Taiw an: Political and Security Issues

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https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF10275 · VERSION 54 · UPDATED