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The United States’ relationship with Taiwan is intertwined with its relationship to China.

The US is Taiwan’s most important ally, and its most effective bulwark against Chinese diplomatic and military pressure.

The US was one of the Republic of China’s (ROC’s) principal backers during and after the Chinese Civil War. It refused to recognise the People Republic of China (PRC). However, as part of President Nixon’s policy of “détente” during the Cold War, the US sought to normalise relations with China. This policy came to fruition in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter established full diplomatic relations with the PRC and terminated its formal diplomatic relations with the ROC/Taiwan.

The relationship between Taiwan and the US is regulated by three joint communiqués it agreed with China, in 1972, 1979 & 1982, the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979, and “six guarantees” President Reagan made to the government in Taipei in the 1980s. Taken together these documents maintain an over-arching policy of what is often called “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan.

“Strategic ambiguity” sees the U.S acknowledging the PRC’s “One China” policy, without actively endorsing it, and stating it wishes to help find a peaceful solution between China and Taiwan. The US continues to sell arms to Taiwan, and Washington commits to “maintain the capacity… to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan”.

The US is not obliged to come to the defence of Taiwan, should it be attacked. The strategy aims to dissuade Taiwan from declaring formal independence and the PRC from using direct force against the island to achieve “reunification”.

Under President Trump US policy towards Taiwan became less ambiguous and more overtly supportive.  This is in large part due to the deteriorating relations between China and America. Mr Trump increased military support to Taiwan including naval operations in the Taiwan Strait, sent senior officials to the island, and his Secretary of State relaxed restrictions on US diplomats and Taipei representatives.

The new administration of President Biden has largely continued with President Trump’s closer relationship with Taiwan, continuing naval operations in the Taiwan Strait, and further relaxing policies on meetings between officials.

The US was one of the Republic of China’s (ROC’s) principal backers during and after the Chinese Civil War. It refused to recognise the People Republic of China (PRC). However, as part of President Nixon’s policy of “détente” during the Cold War, the US sought to normalise relations with China. This policy came to fruition in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter established full diplomatic relations with the PRC and terminated its formal diplomatic relations with the ROC/Taiwan.

The relationship between Taiwan and the US is regulated by three joint communiqués it agreed with China, in 1972, 1979 & 1982, the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979, and “six guarantees” President Reagan made to the government in Taipei in the 1980s. Taken together these documents maintain an over-arching policy of what is often called “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan.

“Strategic ambiguity” sees the U.S acknowledging the PRC’s “One China” policy, without actively endorsing it, and stating it wishes to help find a peaceful solution between China and Taiwan. The US continues to sell arms to Taiwan, and Washington commits to “maintain the capacity… to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan”.

The US is not obliged to come to the defence of Taiwan, should it be attacked. The strategy aims to dissuade Taiwan from declaring formal independence and the PRC from using direct force against the island to achieve “reunification”.

Under President Trump US policy towards Taiwan became less ambiguous and more overtly supportive.  This is in large part due to the deteriorating relations between China and America. Mr Trump increased military support to Taiwan including naval operations in the Taiwan Strait, sent senior officials to the island, and his Secretary of State relaxed restrictions on US diplomats and Taipei representatives.

The new administration of President Biden has largely continued with President Trump’s closer relationship with Taiwan, continuing naval operations in the Taiwan Strait, and further relaxing policies on meetings between officials.

Relevant papers

For information on Taiwan’s history, politics, international recognition and membership of international organisations, and relations with China and the UK see Taiwan: Country profile and international relations.


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