US poised to use marine guards at de facto diplomatic mission in Taipei

Deployment would be welcomed by Taipei, say analysts, but seen in a different light in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 11:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 12:34am

Taiwan’s relations with the United States are set to become closer as Washington reinstates marines as guards at the new compound of its de facto diplomatic mission in Taipei, a move likely to irk Beijing, analysts said.

In a seminar in Washington on Wednesday, Stephen Young, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) – the US embassy on the island in the absence of official ties – said Washington would send marines soon to guard the new compound.

Young, who served as AIT director from 2006 to 2009, said he had pushed strongly for a marine security detachment for the ­Taipei mission and was “proud to say that it is the case today”, ­according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

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Marines are posted at 148 US diplomatic missions around the world. But there have been no such deployments at the AIT since Washingtonswitched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.

Hu Benliang, an associate research fellow with the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the move showed the “duplicity” of US policy towards Taiwan, given that US President Donald Trump had pledged to honour the one-China policy, which recognises Taiwan as part of China.

“What Trump says is different from the measures and policy that he is pursuing. Both sides are still engaged in a power play [over Taiwan],” Hu said. “But in order to contain China, [Washington] just cannot give up the Taiwan card.”

In Beijing, the ministries of foreign affairs and defence did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

Trump agreed to honour the one-China policy while on the phone with President Xi Jinping on February 9.

Observers said the deployment, if confirmed, would be seen in Taiwan as a sign its relationship with Washington was stable.

Lo Chih-cheng, the head of the international affairs department of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said such a move by Washington would have “substantive significance” to ­Taipei. Lo said the US had rarely stationed marines to protect its missions in countries without diplomatic relations unless the situation there was risky.

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“If the relations are not stable, there is no need for the US to ­invest in a costly project like this,” Lo said.

The AIT has said its personnel would be moved to the new office compound in Neihu district some time this year. It is not known whether marines guards at the new compound would wear a military uniform, as their counterparts do in US embassies in other countries.

AIT spokeswoman Sonia ­Urbom yesterday said she would not discuss specific security matters for the facility.

Yen Cheng-sheng, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, said Washington had increased its defence commitments to Taiwan as part of its Asia-Pacific strategy.

Yen noted that former US president Barack Obama had signed into law the 2017 National Defence Authorisation Act, which authorised the Pentagon to conduct senior military exchanges between Taiwan and the US.

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“The posting could mean there will be more obvious military exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, but it is far from the US stationing troops in Taiwan.”

Beijing might be “uncomfortable” with marine guards, Yen said, but because of Trump’s agreement on the one-China policy, it would not make the matter a big issue with Washington.

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong