Four decades after it was signed into law, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) remains the cornerstone of Taiwan-U.S. relations. It serves further as the prime guarantor of peace and prosperity in the Western Pacific. On Feb. 19, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the fact that “Taiwan is a democratic success story, a reliable partner and a force for good” in a statement released at Micronesian Presidents’ Summit. The loud and clear statement demonstrates the U.S.-Taiwan partnership under the TRA framework has proven to be more vital today than ever before.  

In the years since the TRA’s adoption, Taiwan has blossomed into a thriving democracy with three peaceful transfers of power. Taiwan, with its respect for the rule of law, human rights, a free market economy and a robust civil society, has served as a beacon of democracy in East Asia, and an indispensable strategic partner of the United States, working alongside with Washington and many like-minded countries, most recently in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, fighting to defeat ISIS and advancing global freedom of religion, to name just a few.

In the past 40 years, there have been profound changes in the Indo-Pacific region. A rising yet increasingly aggressive China has assumed Orwellian features. Beijing’s status as the world’s second-largest economy has given it the strength to project military power and to unilaterally alter the status quo in the area. The military threat posed by China is growing by the day. Beijing has recently stepped up its sabre-rattling with overflights of bombers and fighter jets around Taiwan and by sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait last year.

The 23 million people of Taiwan are determined to preserve our values against this menacing threat. As Winston Churchill noted during a time of mounting threat to Great Britain, “we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be.” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told CNN in a recent interview that she is focused on strengthening the island’s defense capabilities. China’s naked ambitions and intentions do not stop at Taiwan. It also seeks opportunities to control or influence other countries in the world. Therefore, it is in the grave interest of the U.S. and like-minded nations to jointly deter Beijing's behavior. Otherwise, it may be Taiwan today, who will be next? 

Another profound change in the Indo-Pacific in the past four decades has been the economic growth that has transformed the region. The waters around Taiwan have become a global commercial highway that enriches the people of the entire sphere. In recognition of this new development, President Tsai launched the New Southbound Policy in 2016, her signature foreign policy initiative, seeking to enhance economic, commercial and people-to-people ties with Southeast and South Asia.

2018 has seen a further strengthening of enduring partnership between the U.S. and Taiwan. The significant progresses include the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, showing the longstanding bipartisan support of the U.S. Congress for high-level exchanges with Taiwan. The opening of a new, state-of-the-art 15,000 square meter office compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is another concrete symbol of Washington’s unwavering commitment in the bilateral bond, while the announcement of a $330 million arms sales package to Taiwan in September was widely seen as another fulfillment of those security commitments under the TRA 40 years ago.

In the area of people-to-people exchanges, including at the state level, there have been five governors from the United States who visited Taiwan last year, making the highest number in recent memory. In the meantime, Taiwan has signed driver’s license exchange agreements with 31 American states to facilitate more frequent and closer exchanges in various areas.

The strategic tie between Taiwan and the United States, embedded in the TRA, has stood the test of time. The Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.) eloquently and unmistakably pointed out that Taiwan has always been one of the U.S.’s most important partners in the Indo-Pacific region. We cannot agree with him more.

Stanley Kao is Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.