Senator Helms Supported Democracy Taiwan
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is a small island off the coast of China and has a long history of fighting for a freedom. For over 30 years, Senator Helms supported Taiwan and their struggle for democracy. Our new President elect, Donald Trump, recently spoke with the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, causing some controversy, and brought back the discussion Taiwan’s status in the world. Senator Helms wrote that the people of Taiwan were, “close to my heart….and they could count on me to speak up on their behalf whenever I could.”
Senator Helms was concerned with helping t Taiwan very early in his Senate Career. In January 1974, he traveled there as the keynote speaker at the World Freedom Day rally in Tapei.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter repealed the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, signed in 1955, without approval from Congress, taking back and essentially took back our pledge to help stop China from any attempt to take over Taiwan. Carter also transferred all diplomatic recognition from Tapei back to Beijing. In response, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 in order to “make clear our continued opposition to Communism and our support of Taiwan’s right to pursue the path to democracy.”
Also, people around the United States shared Senator Helms’ opinion, as seen in his speech at the 1976 Republican National Convention. In his speech, Helms gives the crowd a list of important issues at that time and a democratic Taiwan was on that list.
Through the 1980s and most of the 1990s the Taiwan Relations Act successfully provided protection for Taiwan and was unchanged, However, in the late 1990s when Hong Kong was reunified with China, Senator Helms thought it appropriate to reevaluate the United States role in Taiwan’s defense. At that time the Pentagon suspected that “China was engaged in a massive missile buildup opposite Taiwan and undergoing a multifaceted military expansion that included increased emphasis on Taiwan.” It was clear that Taiwan faced a very clear and real threat.
To make sure Taiwan had access to weapons vital to their national defense, Senator Helms and Senator Bob Torricelli offered the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act to the Senate. For years the United States refused to sell much needed weapons and other defense items that Taiwan desperately needed. However, the administration worried that would upset the Chinese government. The goal of the Security Enhancement Act was to “ensure that Taiwan would have essential self-defense capabilities.” Unfortunately, the act never became law and only passed through the House of Representatives.
Despite a lack of clear legislation from the U.S. government, Senator Helms supported Taiwan and hoped it was an example to the world that freedom can be achieved as long as people stand for what they believe. He considered the people of Taiwan a “model of can be done when the principles of personal freedom and free enterprise are protected.”
The people of Taiwan were grateful to Senator Helms for his steadfast commitment and, on October 24, 2002, awarded him the Order of Propitious Clouds with Grand Cordon. President Chen Shui-bian said Helms was “an outstanding statesman of profound erudition and vision who has devoted himself to promoting the amicable relations between the United States and the Republic of China.” Also, after the Senator’s death in 2008, an article in the Tapei Times stated, “The Chinese media denounced Helms, saying that he severely damaged China’s international reputation, while the US left-wing media also denounced him as a troublemaker. However, these comments show exactly what sort of power and influence Helms possessed. To those who value freedom, Helms was a hero and champion.”
Jesse A. Helms, Here’s Where I Stand: A Memoir. Wingate, NC: Jesse Helms Center, 2005.
The Jesse A. Helms Papers, Record Group 2: Senatorial Papers, Personal Correspondence, 1972-2000 and Administrative Files, 1970-2002.