US sending American personnel to guard its de facto embassy in Taiwan

State Department declines to say whether marines will be stationed in uniform at American Institute in Taiwan, the informal US embassy in Taipei

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 5:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 3:43pm

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story was incomplete. It has been updated as of 2:55pm.

The United States has said it will send American security personnel to its de facto embassy in Taiwan when its new premises become operational in September.

A State Department spokesman made the comment in response to questions on whether the US will send marines to provide security at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) when the new premises become operational.

“As is the practice at AIT’s current location, a small number of American personnel detailed to AIT along with a larger number of locally hired employees will provide security for the new office building in cooperation with local authorities,” the spokesman said.

Earlier media reports, including CNN, said in June the State Department had requested that US marines be sent to the AIT. If such a request were granted for the new facility, it would be the first time in nearly 40 years that US marines had guarded a diplomatic mission in Taiwan.

But the Marine Corps Times reported in July that the request had not been granted.

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The State Department spokesman did not give details, nor say whether marines would be stationed in uniform, saying it does not “discuss specific security matters concerning the protection of our facility or personnel”.

The United States customarily deploys marines in uniform as guards at American embassies, consulates and other official government buildings around the world. If it did so in Taipei, it would be the first time since 1979 – when the United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China – that Washington had applied similar security protocols to its unofficial embassy there.

Having marines in uniform at the premises would potentially provoke a furious response from Beijing, which could see it as Washington raising the status of the AIT.

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Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Security and International Studies in Washington, said that “the decisions about security of the new AIT complex were made years ago, and have simply been reaffirmed by the Trump administration”.

“Whatever arrangements are being made are for the purposes of ensuring the security of the AIT compound, not to punish China for its bullying of Taiwan,” she said.

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When asked about the potential assignment of marines to Taiwan at a news conference in late June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged the US to “exercise caution”.

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“That the US strictly abides by its ‘one China’ pledge and refrains from having any official exchanges or military contact with Taiwan are the political preconditions for China-US relations,” Lu said.

“The US is clear about the Chinese position and knows it should exercise caution on this issue to avoid affecting overall bilateral ties.”

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Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, also warned in an opinion article in July that Beijing would consider such a deployment to be “a severe subversion of the one-China policy or even an invasion of the US military of Chinese soil”.

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Earlier this year, the US Congress unanimously approved, and Trump signed into law, the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing officials at all levels of US government – including cabinet-level officials – to travel to Taiwan.