Headlines the last few days screamed about Chinese aggression and Chinese warplanes buzzing over Taiwan. Then, came the “bombshell” report of U.S. troops in Taiwan, training the Taiwanese military. To invade China? To repel a Chinese invasion? To quit losing at paintball? How about because we maintain an agreement with them that has been in place for decades?


The Republic of China or the People’s Republic of China?

After World War II, the U.S. and China were not exactly allies, but not enemies either. Same with Russia. In order to defend against Japanese forces, the U.S. forged alliances with Chinese Nationalists. After the war, a pro-Communist government established the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) on the mainland, forcing Chinese Nationalists to flee to Taiwan, where they continued as the Republic of China in exile. Because the U.S. had backed Nationalist forces against the Japanese, they also backed the exiled Republic of China (R.O.C.). At least on paper. Or in words. Maybe it was thoughts and prayers?


The US and Taiwan

Shu Lin Kou Air Station Taiwan
The entrance to Shu Lin Kou Air Station, Taiwan. (Courtesy of Roger W./Wikimedia Commons)

Since the end of WWII and the standup of Communist China on the mainland, the U.S. has maintained ties with the R.O.C. government in Taiwan. The Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty was signed by the U.S. and R.O.C. in 1954, promising Taiwan aid in case of P.R.C. aggression. It also adjured Taiwan not to attempt aggression toward mainland China, effectively recognizing the two as separate entities. The problem is that both governments consider themselves to be the “true” Chinese government

What, then, is an ally supposed to do? From 1955 to 1979, the U.S. formally recognized the R.O.C. via the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty. The treaty was built on political, social, and economical welfare, and military needs, cementing a U.S. military presence in the Taiwan Strait. After President Carter nullified the Sino-American Treaty in 1979, the U.S. officially recognized the People’s Republic of China, and the Taiwan Relations Act was enacted.


Taiwan Relations Act

In an effort to be as ambiguous as possible, the TRA recognizes the “governing authorities” on Taiwan, and allows for continued diplomatic relations, even though the P.R.C. is the legitimate government. All of this is confusing and written in such a way as to offend the least amount of people. While we don’t recognize you as a sovereign country, we will act as if you are a sovereign country. Though we don’t explicitly say our military might is available, we don’t explicitly say that it is not. All that the Taiwan Relations Act says is we will help you to defend yourselves, but falls short of saying exactly how.