Overview of Reagan’s 6 Assurances to Taiwan

June 15, 2023 9:34 AM

The following is the June 13, 2023, Congressional Research Service, In Focus report, President Reagan’s Six Assurances to Taiwan.

From the report

In the 1978 U.S.-PRC joint communiqué, the two countries announced that they had agreed to establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. In an accompanying statement, the U.S. government said it would terminate diplomatic relations with Taiwan on the same date. With some Members portraying the moves as a betrayal of Taiwan, Congress passed the TRA, enacted on April 10, 1979. Among the TRA’s provisions is that the United States “will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services” as necessary for Taiwan’s self-defense. In 1982, with continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan pursuant to the TRA a major irritant in the U.S.-China relationship, the Ronald Reagan Administration sought to address the issue through negotiation of a third U.S.-PRC joint communiqué.

In that communiqué, known as the August 17th Communiqué for the day in 1982 on which it was released, the PRC affirmed “a fundamental policy of striving for a peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. The United States stated that it “understands and appreciates the Chinese policy of striving for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question.” With those statements “in mind,” the United States stated “that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied [since 1979], and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time, to a final resolution.”

The Reagan Administration understood that the communiqué would be viewed with alarm in Taiwan. On July 10, 1982, a month before its release, then-Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger sent a cable to James Lilley, Director of the unofficial U.S. representative office in Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan, instructing him to seek a meeting with Taiwan President Chiang Ching-kuo. Eagleburger provided Lilley with talking points authorized by President Reagan. The talking points included a set of statements on what the United States had not agreed to in the negotiations with the PRC over the communiqué. Those statements later came to be known as the Six Assurances. Lilley first delivered them to President Chiang on July 14, 1982. Taiwan’s government subsequently requested U.S. permission to make the Six Assurances public. In a cable sent the day of the communiqué’s release, then-Secretary of State George Shultz provided Lilley with a reworded version of the Six Assurances for Taiwan’s government to release. The same day and the day after, in Washington, DC, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs John H. Holdridge testified before Congress about the just-released communiqué. He wove references to the Six Assurances into his testimony, but did not label them as the Six Assurances or disclose that President Reagan had offered the assurances to Taiwan’s president the previous month. The three U.S. government versions of the Six Assurances are presented in Table 1.

The Language of the Six Assurances CRS has bolded the verb tenses

Eagleburger cable: language for President Chiang (7/10/82)

Shultz cable: for Taiwan to make public (8/17/1982)

Holdridge testimony before Senate (8/17/1982)

“We have not agreed to set a date certain for ending arms sales to Taiwan.”

The U.S. “has not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan.”

“[W]e did not agree to set a date certain for ending arms sales to Taiwan.”

“We have not agreed to prior consultation on arms sales.”

The U.S. “has not agreed to consult with the PRC on arms sales to Taiwan.”

“[The 1982 joint communiqué] should not be read to imply that we have agreed to engage in prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.”

“We have not agreed to any mediation role for the U.S.”

The U.S. “will not play any mediation role between Taipei and Beijing.”

“[W]e see no mediation role for the United States.”

“We have not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.”

The U.S. “has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.”

“We have no plans to seek any such revisions [to the TRA].”

“We have not agreed to take any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.”

The U.S. “has not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.”

“[T]here has been no change in our longstanding position on the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan.”

“The PRC has at no time urged us to put pressure on Taiwan to negotiate with the PRC; however, we can assure you that we will never do so.”

The U.S. “will not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.”

[N]or will we attempt to exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.”

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