Taiwan’s Self-Made Democracy Still Needs U.S. Partnership

A beacon of freedom is more essential than ever amid growing darkness.

A view of the Taiwan flag taken on August 21, 2018.
A view of the Taiwan flag taken on August 21, 2018. Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images

On April 10, 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act was signed into law after being passed by the U.S. Congress the month before, in response to President Jimmy Carter’s decision in January 1979 to establish official relations with the People’s Republic of China and sever diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan). At the time, Taiwan was not yet a democracy, with a population of 17 million and a GDP per capita of $1,958―a flickering candle in the storm of the Cold War.

The Taiwan Relations Act mandates the U.S. commitment to peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific. More important, it defines how the United States engages with Taiwan and ensures that our country has adequate defense capabilities to be free from coercion.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, no one could have imagined that Taiwan would emerge as a beacon of democracy in Asia.

By embracing democratic values, the people of Taiwan took their fate into their own hands. The resilient Taiwanese defied all odds and kept making progress.

With steadfast support from our partner in democracy, the United States, the people of Taiwan transformed an authoritarian regime into a vibrant democracy and held their first direct presidential election by popular vote in 1996. Democratization was further consolidated four years later with a peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. Then, in 2016, Taiwan broke through the glass ceiling by electing its first female president and a record number of women into the legislature.

Taiwan has also transformed itself from an aid recipient into a high-tech powerhouse featuring outstanding human capital, a rules-based market, and a sound legal framework that upholds property rights. Taiwan now ranks as one of the top 10 freest economies in the world and has become an important partner for many U.S. companies in the region and around the world.

Since I took office three years ago, Taiwan and the United States have stepped up our joint efforts to promote our mutual interests, such as religious freedom, media literacy, and fighting corruption, safeguarding our shared values in the Indo-Pacific region.

One lesson of the 20th century is that the forward march of democracy is not a given.

For the past 40 years, many members of Congress and successive U.S. administrations have honored the Taiwan Relations Act, making our partnership irreplaceable and shielding our region from increasingly aggressive anti-democratic forces. We stand together because we believe that the darkness and fear imposed by authoritarian regimes cannot withstand the light of democracy.

The U.S. government has stood firm and responded to challenges to our partnership with determination and perseverance.

The U.S. Congress has consistently demonstrated bipartisan support for stronger ties with Taiwan through legislation like the Taiwan Travel Act, proof that the creativity and commitment that created the Taiwan Relations Act are still alive in Congress today.

Our shared commitment to democracy and freedom is something that people living under authoritarian regimes can never understand. Faced with the growing challenges to the rules-based order established after World War II, our partnership is more important than ever.

Taiwan has survived and thrived under the most challenging circumstances of the 20th century. The people of Taiwan have not given in to the fearmongering of authoritarian regimes and never will. At this critical juncture, we celebrate and reaffirm our partnership with the United States and look forward to the next chapter in our success story.

As president of this beacon of democracy, I am committed to fighting the good fight. I will continue to work with our friends in the years ahead to create a better world for future generations and a more open and free Indo-Pacific and beyond.


Tsai Ing-wen is the President of Taiwan.

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