This study examines the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which defined U.S.-Taiwan relations after the United States' diplomatic recognition of China. It analyzes how President Carter's original legislation was shaped after extensive hearings, lengthy debates, and sharp disagreement in Congress and eventually achieved broad consensus.
As 1979 dawned, President Jimmy Carter extended diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. upending longstanding U.S. foreign policy in Asia. For thirty years after the triumph of Mao's revolution, the United States continued to recognize the claim of the Republic of China, based on Taiwan, to govern the entire country. Intricate economic and cultural relations existed between Washington and Taipei, backed by a Mutual Defense Treaty. While Carter withdrew from the treaty, satisfying a core Chinese condition for diplomatic relations, he presented Congress with legislation to allow other ties with Taiwan to continue unofficially. Many in Congress took issue with the President. Generally supportive of his policy to normalize relations with China, they worried about Taiwan's future. Believing Carter's legislation was incomplete, especially regarding Taiwan's security, they held extensive hearings and lengthy debates, substantially strengthening the bill. The President ensured the measure comported with the terms of normalization. He negotiated with Congress to produce legislation he could sign and Beijing could at least tolerate. Although the final product enjoyed broad consensus in Congress, fights over amendments were fierce, and not always to the President's advantage. Passage of the Taiwan Relations Act stabilized America's position in Asia and its situation with Taipei, while allowing the new China to be properly launched. Now in its fourth decade, the Act remains highly impactful on the leading bilateral relationship in the world.The United States Constitution makes Congress the President's partner in shaping American foreign policy. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 vividly demonstrates how robust congressional engagement and inter-Branch cooperation leads to stronger and more durable policy outcomes, which enjoy a greater degree of public acceptance.
Table of contents:
Introduction Chapter 1: The Path to Normalization Chapter 2: Deng Xiaoping Visits America Chapter 3: Hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chapter 4: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Markup Chapter 5: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report Chapter 6: Hearings in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chapter 7: House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs Hearings Chapter 8: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Report Chapter 9: The Administration's Taiwan/China Legislative Task Force and Senate Confirmation of Ambassador Leonard Woodcock Chapter 10: The Senate Floor Chapter 11: The Floor of the House of Representatives Chapter 12: The Senate and House Resolve Their Differences Chapter 13: Signing a Bill into Law Chapter 14: The Perilous Question of Treaty Termination Appendix 1: Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and their Years of Service Appendix 2: Chronology Appendix 3: The Carter Administration's Legislative Proposal (Introduced by Request)
Martin B. Gold is an attorney and is on the faculty at The Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.