Order Code RS20370
Updated March 1, 2000
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and
Underlying Issues in U.S. Policy
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Taiwan has become an increasingly controversial issue in U.S.-China relations, and
has attracted more attention from Congress. Some Members believe that China poses
more of a threat now to Taiwan than in the past, while they see Taiwan’s ability to
defend itself as having eroded over time. Questions have also been raised about U.S.
policy toward Taiwan, and particularly about the consistency and credibility of U.S.
defense commitments as spelled out in P.L. 96-8, the Taiwan Relations Act. In response
to these growing concerns, Members of the 106th Congress have introduced the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act (S. 693, H.R. 1838), legislation to enhance U.S.-Taiwan
military communication and cooperation, and strengthen Taiwan’s security. The
Administration says it shares the desire to bolster Taiwan, but sees the legislation as
unnecessarily provocative and potentially harmful to US. security interests. This report
reviews what the legislation does, discusses its political implications and its status, and
assesses how the measure compares with current U.S. policy.
Since 1979, when the United States ended official relations with Taiwan and
established official relations with the People’s Republic of China, U.S. policy toward
Taiwan, including arms sales policy, has been governed by P.L. 96-8, the Taiwan Relations
Act (TRA), and by other U.S. policy statements about Taiwan contained in three
communiques the United States has signed with China since 1972. The TRA set forth a
comprehensive prescription for how unofficial U.S. relations were to be conducted with
Taiwan after official relations were severed. The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act
(TSEA) is an attempt to expand upon and make more explicit the provisions of one
particular section of the TRA — Section 3, which deals with U.S. defense commitments.
Section 3 of the TRA is non-specific about the defense articles and services the United
States will provide to Taiwan, merely calling for “such defense articles and services...as
may be necessary.” It reads as follows:
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Sec. 3.1 (a) In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 2 of this Act, 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 sufficient
(b) The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such
defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan,
in accordance with procedures established by law. Such determination of Taiwan’s
defense needs shall include review by United States military authorities in connection
with recommendations to the President and the Congress.
(c) The President is directed to inform the Congress promptly of any threat to the
security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan and any danger to
the interests of the United States arising therefrom. The President and the Congress
shall determine, in accordance with constitutional processes, appropriate action by the
United States in response to any such danger.3
Some Members maintain that in the two decades since the TRA was enacted, several
trends have helped erode Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, and U.S. policy should be
adjusted accordingly. In 1995, for instance, after the Clinton Administration yielded to
heavy congressional pressure and issued a visa for Taiwan’s president to make a private
visit to the United States, an irate China responded by conducting an unprecedented series
of live-fire missile exercises in the Taiwan Strait. The United States responded to the
provocation in 1996 by sending two carrier battle groups to the area. In June 1998,
President Clinton sparked renewed controversy during his summit trip to China when he
made a public statement that has come to be known as the “Three Noes,” raising questions
about whether long-standing U.S. policy toward Taiwan had changed.4 In February 1999,
the U.S. Department of Defense issued a congressionally-mandated report assessing the
military balance between Taiwan and China. The report concluded that in light of
improvements in offensive military capabilities, by the year 2005, China will have acquired
the ability “to attack Taiwan with air and missile strikes which would degrade key military
facilities and damage the island’s economic infrastructure.”5
22 U.S.C. 3302.
Sec. 23 of the International Security Assistance Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-92; 93 Stat. 710) provided
authorization for the President to transfer to Taiwan war reserve material and other property during
calendar years 1980 and 1981. For text of sec. 23, see Legislation on Foreign Relations Through
1994, vol. I-A, page 504.
Taiwan Relations Act (P.L. 96-8), Sec. 3. 22 USC 3302.
According to a White House transcript of his remarks during a roundtable discussion in Shanghai
on June 30, 1998, the President responded to a question about Taiwan saying: “I had a chance to
reiterate our Taiwan policy, which is that we don’t support independence for Taiwan, or two
China’s, or one Taiwan-one China. And we don’t believe that Taiwan should be a member in any
organization for which statehood is a requirement. So I think we have a consistent policy.” Some
Members believe that the President’s statement went beyond earlier U.S. statements regarding
Taiwan. See CRS Report RL30341, China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One-China” Policy, by
The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, Report to Congress pursuant to the FY1999
Appropriations Bill. The text of the report can be found at http://www.usia.gov/regional/ea/
Along with these developments since 1995, concerned observers are disturbed that
China continues to insist publicly on its right to use force against Taiwan – most recently,
in a “white paper” the Chinese government issued on February 21, 2000. They further
believe that China has demonstrated increasing hostility to Taiwan — not only in the 199596 missile exercises, but in a subsequent large military build-up on the Chinese mainland
opposite Taiwan. They claim that U.S. administrations have been too cautious over the
years in making decisions concerning arms sales to Taiwan, and that the current
Administration prefers to “curry favor with Beijing,” as the Chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee put it, at Taiwan’s expense.6 Finally, some are concerned
that Taiwan’s military is increasingly anemic, out of step with international standards, and
disadvantaged by its inability to conduct joint military exercises or participate in military
exchanges with other countries because of Beijing’s objections. H.R. 1838 and S. 693
address these perceived shortcomings and obstacles.
Overview of H.R. 1838 and S. 693, and Comparison with Current Policy
As introduced, H.R. 1838 (introduced by Representatives Delay, Gilman, and others)
and S. 693 (introduced by Senators Helms and Torricelli) were almost identical. But on
October 26, 1999, the full House International Relations Committee marked up H.R. 1838
and, by a vote of 32-6, ordered it reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute
(H. Rept. 106-423, Pt. 1). The full House passed this amended version on February 1,
2000, by a vote of 341 - 70. The substitute, a compromise version which Chairman Gilman
referred to as the result of lengthy negotiations between himself and Representatives
Bereuter, Gejdenson, and Cox, made some important changes in the original House
version.7 The Senate bill, S. 693, was the subject of Senate Foreign Relations Committee
hearings on August 4, 1999. No markup has been scheduled yet, and reports are that the
bill is being held for a range of concerns.
Sections 1 and 2. Both bills are called the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act
(Section 1) and contain a number of findings about Taiwan and China (Section 2). S. 693
provides details about China’s military build-up, taken from a 1999 Pentagon report on the
military balance in the Taiwan Strait.8 The House International Relations Committee
toned down these findings in the substitute to H.R. 1838, removing details about China's
military build-up and substituting a series of statements about current U.S. obligations
under the Taiwan Relations Act. Also, the substitute declared that "it is in the national
interested of the United States to eliminate ambiguity" in U.S. policy toward Taiwan.9
Section 3. S. 693 makes several “sense of Congress” pronouncements concerning
Taiwan’s special status, including statements that Taiwan should receive additional slots
at the U.S. National Defense University and other senior service schools, and should have
Statement by Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a
sponsor of S. 693, in opening an August 4, 1998 Committee hearing on the legislation.
Representative Bereuter is Chairman of the Committee's Asia/Pacific Subcommittee;
Representative Gejdenson is the Committee's ranking minority Member; Representative Cox, not
a Committee Member, is Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.
See The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, February, 1999. )
Some on the Committee objected to making U.S. policy more express. Representative Tom
Lantos, for instance, stated that in the case of the U.S. policy on Taiwan, "ambiguity is a virtue."
“full and timely access to price and availability data” for defense goods and services.
Section 3 of the substitute version of H.R 1838 mandates these things.
Section 4 and 5(a). Sections 4 and 5(a) of S. 693 contain several mandates that go
beyond current U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Although the substitute version of H.R. 1838
makes minor changes, the provisions are substantially similar in both bills:
! an increase in technical staff for the AIT office in Taiwan, with the caveat that this
be upon a request from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency;
! an annual report to Congress detailing Taiwan’s defense requests, needs, and
justifications for U.S. decisions on sale of defense articles to Taiwan;
! a finding that Taiwan’s defense needs(and not the 1982 Communique on arms sales
to Taiwan or other U.S. policy documents) are to be the sole basis of determining
the defense articles and services to be offered to Taiwan.
Section 5(b) - (h). It is from Section 5(b) and afterward that the substitute version
of H.R. 1838 differs most from the original version and from S. 693.
Training/military exchanges. Section 5(b) of both measures requires the Secretary
of Defense to develop and/or implement a plan for enhanced military exchanges and
operational training with senior military officers in Taiwan within 210 days of enactment,
and to submit that plan to Congress within 180 days of enactment. (S. 693 requires the
submission of either a classified or unclassified version; the House substitute requires the
submission of both.) Although the United States has contact with and provides some
training for Taiwan military personnel, this appears to be limited to training on weapons
doctrine, site visits, and other military contacts related to weapons sales. The United
States does not now conduct joint exercises with Taiwan or joint operational training.
Reporting requirements. The House substitute contains additional reporting
language, not found in S. 693, requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit an annual
report on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. The first such report, in both
classified and unclassified form, is to be submitted not later than 45 days after enactment
of the Act. The report is to include specific assessments of military threats to Taiwan, and
an assessment of the steps Taiwan has taken.
Direct military communications. S. 693 and the original text of H.R. 1838 require
the United States to establish secure direct communications between the U.S. Pacific
Command and Taiwan's military command. The House substitute changed this language
to direct the Secretary of Defense to "certify" to relevant congressional committees that
such communications exist between U.S. and Taiwan armed forces.
Weapons sales and military assistance. Both bills originally established general
guidelines for U.S. defense cooperation with Taiwan, and provided specific authorization
President for specific weapons systems for the United States to transfer to Taiwan. The
House substitute deleted all this language (Section 5(d) - (g)). There are no weapons
systems mentioned now in H.R. 1838.
S. 693 still contains this language, much of which is general — mentioning groundbased and sea-based systems, reconnaissance and communications systems, and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) systems, for instance, without giving further specifics. In a
number of cases, the United States already has sold to Taiwan systems that fall under these
general rubrics. For instance, the United States has sold the Patriot (modified PAC-3)
system to Taiwan, which is a ground-based missile defense system with limited anti-missile
capabilities, and also Taiwan S-70 Sikorsky helicopters and S2E Grumman maritime patrol
aircraft, both of which are airborne ASW systems. (The United States has not been willing
to sell Taiwan the P-3 Orion, a longer-range airborne ASW system, although some recent
reports suggest that the United States may be rethinking that position. Although Taiwan
has sought these planes in the past, one recent report is that Taiwan has decided to use
helicopters for its fixed-wing ASW mission.)10 In four instances, S. 693 is more specific,
mentioning diesel-powered submarines, AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, AWACS
airborne warning systems, and Aegis destroyers. The United States has not been willing
to sell Taiwan these systems to date, and a decision to do so could be considered a
significant upgrade of U.S. military assistance to Taiwan.
Section 6. Found only in the House substitute as reported by the Committee,
Section 6 of H.R. 1838, amended, requires the Secretary of Defense to submit, within 180
days of enactment of the Act, an additional report (classified and unclassified versions)
on the U.S. ability to respond to a major military contingency "where U.S. interests on
Taiwan are at risk." The report, to be "updated as appropriate," specifies "description of
[U.S.] planning on the national, operational and tactical levels."
Both the original and substitute versions of the TSEA have opponents. The Clinton
Administration opposes both versions, saying that the bill “could have serious, unintended
negative consequences that would weaken Taiwan’s security and impinge on [U.S.]
security interests in the region.”11 The Administration also maintains that the TSEA’s
specificity on military matters constitutes congressional interference in the President’s
constitutional authority to make military decisions as Commander-in-Chief. The Pentagon
doubtless finds the reporting requirements of the House substitute onerous. The
Administration has expressed particular concern about the TSEA’s plan for “operational
training and exchanges of [U.S.-Taiwan military] personnel” (sec. 5(b), H.R. 1838 and S.
683), and the establishment of “secure direct communications” (sec. 5(c), S. 693) between
the two militaries. These portions of the bill, the Administration maintains, are more
suggestive of a military alliance than is compatible with U.S.-Taiwan unofficial relations.12
The Administration also objects to S. 693's specific mention of ballistic missile defense and
early warning radar (sec. 5(d)) as items that the President should consider selling to
Taiwan, saying that sale of these systems is premature at this time.
World Military and Civil Aircraft Briefing, Teal Group Corporation, March 1999, p. 12.
Testimony of Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 4, 1999.
As part of the decision to establish official relations with China and break official relations with
Taiwan, the United States had to terminate its defense alliance with Taiwan, the U.S. Mutual
Defense Treaty. In 1979, the United States gave Taiwan the one-year notification of termination
required by the Treaty; the Treaty was officially terminated on January 1, 1980.
The Administration’s concerns are shared by some Members who believe that current
U.S. arms sale policies are sufficient to meet Taiwan’s needs, and that additional weapons
sales and other measures are both unnecessary and needlessly provocative to U.S.-China
relations. Representative Bereuter, Chairman of the House International Relations
Committee’s Asia/Pacific Subcommittee, maintains that the most recent U.S. arms sales
approved for Taiwan already provide for early-warning radar for missile launch detection,
upgraded Patriot 3 anti-missile batteries, and new equipment intended to ensure the
technological superiority of the Taiwanese air force over its Chinese counterpart.13 The
Administration also reportedly is discussing with Taiwan the possible sale of P-3 Orion
aircraft and advanced Aegis radar for battleships.14 During mark-up, Representatives
Lantos and Salmon both argued against the bill's specificity, and said that the Taiwan
Relations Act was a sufficient directive for U.S. policy. Representative Lantos stated his
belief that the motivations behind introduction of the legislation were purely political,
designed to put the President in a difficult position.
Implications and Prospects
More important than the TSEA’s practical implications are its political implications.
The Administration’s objections notwithstanding, the current language of S. 693 places
no requirements on the President to sell specific weapons to Taiwan, merely authorizing
him to make the specified sales. But under the TRA, the President already has broad
authority to make available to Taiwan any type of U.S. defense equipment he deems
necessary; in other words, current U.S. law places no exclusions on the types of defense
articles and services that can be made available to Taiwan.
Congressional and other advocates of the new legislation argue, however, that no
U.S. President yet has chosen to make available to Taiwan the specific kinds of defense
articles and services that S. 693 and H.R. 1838 describe. The reason no President has
done so, they contend, has far more to do with political considerations than with practical
calculations about Taiwan’s defense needs. Among these political considerations are:
China’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan and its objections to U.S. arms sales; U.S.
commitments in the 1982 Joint Communique on arms sales to Taiwan; the fact that the
United States has neither an official relationship nor a defense treaty with Taiwan; and the
potential implications of U.S. arms sales for independence sentiments in Taiwan. These
same political considerations are operative in considering those portions of the TSEA that
do mandate Executive Branch action, particularly where those provisions imply an
operational linkage to weapons sales decisions and military contacts with Taiwan that goes
beyond the character of current U.S. sales (sec. 4(b) and 5(c)). In essence, the TSEA
places increased congressional pressure on the President to be more pro-active and
aggressive in decisions about Taiwan’s defense, but may not change the prevailing political
dynamic surrounding arms sales to Taiwan.
“White House Opposes Bill on Taiwan; Business Lobbyists Join Bid to Stop Security
Measure That Could Anger China,” in Washington Post, October 3, 1999, p. A26.