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US scholar urges commission on Taiwan issues

TAIPEI -- The United States Congress should examine the feasibility of establishing a commission to study issues related to Taiwan, a U.S. political scholar said in the run-up to the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).

Similar to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission created by congressional mandate, the commission would monitor and investigate national security and trade issues between Taipei and Washington, said Dennis Hickey, a political science professor at Missouri State University.

Such a commission might be a useful tool or resource for the Congress, he told CNA via e-mail when asked to elaborate on the idea he presented in a policy brief series on the TRA, which was published earlier this month by the Washington-based Wilson Center.

“It would hold hearings, produce an annual report on its findings, and provide recommendations to Congress on matters related to Taiwan,” he said, adding that the idea of setting up such a commission was included in one of the original drafts of the TRA.

The TRA was enacted on April 10, 1979 to maintain commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the U.S. and the people of Taiwan, after Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

The statute pledges to help ensure peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific and to promote the foreign policy of the U.S. It also obliges the U.S. “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.”

In an article titled “The Taiwan Relations Act: A Mid-Life Crisis at 35?” Hickey also argued that U.S. lawmakers should resist efforts to “revise, repeal or 'bolster' the TRA.”

While some call for America to reduce its support for Taiwan and others advocate increased U.S. support for Taiwan, any effort to change the TRA could potentially complicate matters in the development of the relationship across the Taiwan Strait, Hickey argued.

Some U.S. lawmakers, for example, are uncomfortable with “strategic ambiguity” and want to draft new legislation stating plainly that the U.S. will defend Taiwan, he said.

But “scrapping the policy of strategic ambiguity and providing Taiwan with an ironclad security guarantee could infuriate China, embolden Taiwan's separatists, and entrap the United States in a cross-strait conflict,” he said.

“On the other hand, rescinding the 'risky' U.S. security commitment to Taiwan might tempt hotheads in Beijing to seek a military solution to the Taiwan issue and/or undermine American credibility in other regions of the world,” he said.

Washington should instead continue to emphasize its support of the ongoing rapprochement between Taiwan and China, Hickey said.

“A peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue will promote peace and stability in the Western Pacific, and might provide sufficient cause for lawmakers to revisit the relevance of the TRA,” he said.

According to Hickey, the TRA has helped create an environment that allows the two sides of the strait to peacefully resolve their differences, and “it is likely that the law will continue to contribute to peace and stability in future years.”

Asked about the ongoing student-led protesters in Taiwan occupying the Legislature to oppose the trade-in-services agreement with China, Hickey was “hesitant to comment,” calling it Taiwan's own internal affair and saying that “foreigners should stay out of it,” he said.

But he said the tolerance of the President Ma Ying-jeou's administration for such antics “is astounding.”

“I shudder to think how the U.S. government would react if a group of 'Tea-Party' activists proclaimed themselves to be 'self-appointed representatives' of the American people and occupied the U.S. Congress because they do not like 'Obamacare' or one of our nation's many free trade agreements,” he said.

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