Monday, 18 June, 2018

US shows new de facto embassy in Taiwan amid China tensions

AIT Chairman James Moriarty with AIT Director Kin Moy and Vice President Chen Chien-jen AIT Chairman James Moriarty with AIT Director Kin Moy and Vice President Chen Chien-jen
Sammy Stanley | 14 June, 2018, 16:26

The U.S. opened a de facto embassy in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, a move that strengthens ties with Taiwan but comes as trade tensions with China escalate.

The new complex, a major upgrade from the low-key military building the AIT had used for decades, will serve as the representative office later this summer, said AIT Director Kin Moy.

Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, attended the dedication ceremony with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen.

The US switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979 but maintains close economic, political and security ties with Taiwan.

For instance, he said, in the U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats do not always get along, but "we recently passed the Taiwan Travel Act unanimously". China has blocked Taiwan's participation in global meetings such as the World Health Assembly and has pressured multinational companies ranging from fashion brands to airlines to describe Taiwan as part of China.

"We urge the United States to honor its pledges made to China on the Taiwan issue, correct its wrong practices to avoid damaging China-U.S. relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait", said Geng. "The friendship between Taiwan and the United States has never been more promising", Tsai said, according to Reuters.

The new AIT complex.

The site spreads over 6.5 hectares, including Chinese gardens, in Taipei's Neihu district.

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"The mainland must continue to build up its deterrence against Taiwanese authorities, making them know that the US can not be their savior", it said in an editorial on the opening of the new office.

China and the USA - now in heated talks over trade - have frequently sparred over questions of militarization of the South China Sea, where Taiwan also has competing claims to parts or all of the region.

The New York Times notes there was speculation President Trump originally planned a "bolder show of support for Taiwan", perhaps by sending a Cabinet-level official to attend the ceremony, but reconsidered in light of delicate trade negotiations with China and his summit meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

The new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is seen in Taipei, Taiwan, June 2, 2018.

In December 2016, then President-elect Trump accepted a precedence-shattering phone call from Tsai to congratulate him on his election victory, marking the highest-level contact between the two sides in nearly 40 years. Beijing has claimed the island as a breakaway Chinese province and has vowed to take it by force, if necessary.

Beijing is extremely suspicious of Tsai, believing that Taiwan's first female president seeks formal independence for the island.

Still, the United States has not sold F-35 fighter jets, as requested by Taipei, offered actual submarines or docked a naval vessel in Taiwan despite talk in Washington.

Beijing has also increased the frequency of military exercises in the last few months, including deploying its own aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in the Taiwan Strait. Trump, meanwhile has appointed several proponents of better US-Taiwan relations since taking power.

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