“Taiwan urgently needs new tactical fighters. I encourage the Administration to work closely with Congress in meeting our obligations pursuant to the TRA and provide Taiwan with the weapons it requires, including F-16 fighters.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled “Why Taiwan Matters”:

Madam Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing on the importance of Taiwan.

Taiwan is a flourishing, multiparty democracy of 23 million people with a vibrant free market economy. It is the 9th biggest trading partner of the United States – ahead of much bigger countries like Brazil and India – and has been a consistent advocate for trade liberalization in the WTO and APEC.

Over the past 60 years, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship has undergone dramatic changes, but Taiwan’s development into a robust and lively democracy underpins the strong U.S.-Taiwan friendship we enjoy today.

Our relationship with Taiwan was initially defined by a shared strategic purpose of containing the spread of communism in Asia. With the end of the Cold War, Taiwan’s political evolution from authoritarianism to one of the strongest democratic systems in Asia has transformed the U.S.-Taiwan relationship from one based essentially on shared interests to one based on shared values.

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979 is the cornerstone of the relationship between our two nations. It has been instrumental in maintaining peace and security across the Taiwan Straits and in Asia.

One of the main obligations of the United States under the legislation is to make available to Taiwan defensive arms so that Taiwan is able maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Last year’s Defense Department’s report to Congress on the Chinese military stated that China’s military build-up opposite Taiwan is continuing and that the balance of cross-Strait military forces continues to shift in China’s favor.

In addition, another DoD assessment of Taiwan’s air defense status concluded that while Taiwan has nearly 400 combat aircraft in service, “far fewer of these are operationally capable.” Taiwan urgently needs new tactical fighters. I encourage the Administration to work closely with Congress in meeting our obligations pursuant to the TRA and provide Taiwan with the weapons it requires, including F-16 fighters.

While the cross-Strait security situation remains tenuous, it is encouraging to see that stronger economic and cultural ties have developed between Taiwan and China in recent years. There are now more than 350 direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland, and last year, over 1.6 million tourists from China visited Taiwan.

The two sides also signed a landmark trade agreement last year that lowered and eliminated tariffs on hundreds of commodities. These examples are part of a positive trend that has strengthened relations between Taiwan and China, and it would benefit both Taipei and Beijing to take additional steps to build cross-Strait trust and cooperation.

Three years ago, when he took office, Taiwan’s president initiated a policy of rapprochement with the mainland, declaring “no unification, no independence, and no use of force”. China could have responded in kind by foreswearing the use of military force to bring about reunification and reducing their military threat against Taiwan. Instead they increased their missile deployment targeting Taiwan. If China won’t take steps to reduce this military threat even after all of Taiwan’s efforts at rapprochement, can we expect that China ever will renounce the use of force?

Taiwan’s political, economic, and social transformation over the past 60 years has demonstrated that a state can be thoroughly Chinese, modern, and democratic. Taiwan’s example is an inspiration for other countries in Asia and throughout the world that linger under the control of one person or one party. And next year’s election in Taiwan—its fifth direct presidential election—will be another sign of the political maturity of the Taiwanese people and a signal to Beijing that a change in relations between Taiwan and China cannot be imposed by the mainland.

For many years, I have been a staunch supporter of the people of Taiwan, and I will continue to foster efforts here in Congress to demonstrate our country’s continued strong support for Taiwan. I look forward to the testimony of our expert witnesses this morning and in hearing their views on how to further strengthen ties between the United States and Taiwan.