Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pushing China's Buttons - The United States and the American Institute in Taiwan

Here is a recent story that didn't get a great deal of traction in the Western media, largely because it took place on the same day that the Donald Trump - Kim Jong-un summit took place in Singapore:


While it may sound otherwise, while the innocuously named American Institute in Taiwan (or AIT) sounds like an educational institution or a think-tank, it actually functions as the de facto American embassy in Taiwan, located in the capital city of Taipei despite its classification as a government-linked, non-profit organization.   In fact, it is important enough to the United States that it was the recent subject of a $250 million upgrade.  While this story may not seem to be a big deal to most of us, as you will see, China has taken great exception to the expansion of the AIT along with a more recent development that is the main subject of this posting.

Here is a screen capture from the AIT's main website:


As you can see, AIT provides visa services for visitors and services for U.S. citizens living in Taiwan, duties that are normally part of the responsibilities of American embassies around the world.  Here's what AIT has to say about itself:



When diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (or PRC) were normalized in 1979, the United States began adhering to the "One-China Policy" which agreed that Taiwan (aka the Republic of China or ROC) was basically a province of mainland China and, as such, the United States would no longer be recognized as an independent nation, resulting in a severing of official diplomatic ties.  Since, under the One China Policy, Taiwan is recognized as being under Beijing's rule, it does not have an official U.S. embassy.   If you want more geopolitical background on the China - Taiwan issue and why it is of such importance to the maintenance of world peace and the leadership of the People's Republic of China, please read my posting here.

For those of you that may not be aware, U.S. embassies around the world are guarded by Marines under the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group.  According to a June 29, 2018 article on the Straits Times website, the U.S. Department of State has requested that U.S. marines be sent to Taiwan to "help safeguard" America's de facto embassy in Taipei as shown here:


This request has not been formally approved but, if approved by the Department of State and the Marine Corps, it will be the first time since 1979 that U.S. Marines had guard duty at a U.S. diplomatic post in Taiwan.

Further to that, let's now look at a June 29, 2018 article that appeared in the Taipei Times 


Here is a key quote that provides us with a clearer look at how the Taiwanese regard AIT:

According to internal US mechanisms, before sending the guards overseas, the US assesses the safety conditions of the country and of the embassy facilities, and uses this information to determine how many guards to send." (my bold)

Now, let's get to the key point of this posting.  On July 29, 2018, this op-ed piece appeared in the Global Times, a daily newspaper under the auspices of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party:

Here are some key quotes:

"If the US Marines publicly station at the AIT in their uniforms, that would be treated by Beijing as a severe subversion of the one-China policy or even an invasion of the US military of Chinese soil. The AIT would also be regarded as a primary stronghold for the US invasion of China. Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen's administration would be defined as a traitorous group. That being said, from a strategic perspective, the AIT would become the most insecure place in Taiwan and a blasting fuse for clashes. 

The AIT has never been a real non-governmental institution. Many US people who stationed there are diplomats, intelligence staff, military officers and experts. The new AIT complex is larger and will play a more important role in a tough China strategy by the US. But there is still a difference between offending openly and not doing so. 

The status of Taiwan and posture of China-US relations are not shaped by a few petty tricks." (my bold)

In closing, here is an interesting quote from Xin Qiang, an export on China-U.S.-Taiwan issues at Sudan University in Shanghai on these recent developments:

"The US is playing the Taiwan card right now and using the Taiwan problem to add pressure on China, which is very dangerous.  North Korea’s nuclearisation, trade issues, the South China Sea – none are comparable to the Taiwan issue.

If the US does anything provocative, then not only will Sino-US relations be damaged, but it would push the two countries towards military conflict and even war. No other issue has this same level of risk." (my bold)

As you can clearly see from the information that I have provided in this posting, Washington is pushing China's buttons on at least three very sensitive issues, trade, the South China Sea and, most importantly, Taiwan, an issue that is of extreme importance to the People's Republic of China, a nation that has the second-largest military in the world.

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