China Rejects Historic U.S. Law Protecting Taiwan As 'Illegal and Invalid'

China called a key piece of American legislation governing relations with Taiwan "illegal and invalid," saying it had opposed for more than 40 years the law once described by a senior Biden official as among the most significant foreign policy undertakings in the history of Congress.

On Wednesday, Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) in Beijing, rejected the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), the 1979 law that requires that the United States provide the island with defensive arms while also maintaining its own capability to resist any attempt to resolve differences across the Taiwan Strait by other than peaceful means.

The TRA forms part of the U.S.'s "one China" policy, under which the U.S. established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1979 and continued to maintain an unofficial relationship with Taiwan. This "one China" bedrock also includes the U.S.-PRC Three Communiques and the Six Assurances given to Taipei by the Reagan administration.

Beijing considers the communiques—issued in 1972, 1979 and 1982—to be foundational to U.S.-China relations. They formalized, among other policy intentions, the switching of U.S. recognition from Taipei to Beijing. Meanwhile, the assurances, also from 1982, included pledges not to set a date for the end of arms sales, not to change its position on the political status of Taiwan and not to pressure the island into negotiations with the PRC.

The U.S. doesn't take a position on Taiwan's sovereignty; it considers the island's status to be undetermined. Importantly, the U.S. acknowledges but doesn't recognize or accept the PRC's claim over Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, under Beijing's own "one China" principle.

"The U.S.'s so-called 'Taiwan Relations Act' and 'Six Assurances' violate the Sino-U.S. Joint Communiques and are a gross interference in China's internal affairs," Zhu said at a regular TAO press briefing. "They are totally wrong, illegal and invalid. China has firmly opposed them from the beginning."

Her remarks followed official U.S. confirmation that a congressional delegation had arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a diplomatic visit, and were pronounced after a Pentagon spokesperson said the trip was in keeping with U.S. obligations under the TRA.

The TRA—supported by then Senator Joe Biden 42 years ago—is the only element of the U.S. "one China" policy that is enshrined in American law. The U.S. considers joint communiques to be non-binding statements of intent to implement future policy, in accordance with its understanding of it.

Jessica Drun, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank's Global China Hub, told Newsweek the TRA "holds the most weight."

China Rejects Historic U.S. Law On Taiwan
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol on April 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. China has called a key piece of American legislation governing relations with Taiwan "illegal and invalid." Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Testifying before Congress in October 2011, Kurt Campbell—today the White House's Indo-Pacific coordinator for the Biden administration—described the TRA as "one of the most important acts of legislative leadership in foreign policy in our history."

Then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration's State Department, the architect of the U.S. "Pivot to Asia" told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that it was "deeply in the interests of the United States" to maintain a broad, unofficial relationship with Taiwan and its people.

In July, Campbell told an Asia Society forum that the Biden administration believes "Taiwan has a right to live in peace."

Sanctions

Last Friday, the TAO announced sanctions against three Taiwanese officials including two cabinet members in Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's government. Beijing said it had blacklisted Premier Su Tseng-chang, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Taiwan's parliament speaker, You Si-kun.

China, which had hinted at the measures in November 2020, labeled the trio "stubborn" supporters of Taiwan independence, saying they would be barred from entering or doing business in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

The TAO's counterpart in Taipei, known as the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said the next day it was considering appropriate countermeasures. MAC Minister Chiu Tai-san told local lawmakers during a parliamentary hearing in Taipei on Monday that Taiwan would look at how other countries have responded in the past.

Chiu described Beijing's sanctions as a "meaningless announcement."