In what is largely being touted as a policy shift, the United States will be moving its de facto embassy with its 500-strong staff to a new USD 255 million worth site next month in Taipei, Taiwan. This move comes amidst growing pressure from China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province. China has made repeated calls for reunification, especially after pro-democracy candidate Tsai Ing-wen took over as Taiwan's President in 2016.
"The US representative office in Taiwan has become a lot more high-profile since Trump became President in 2016, compared to the previous period when it did all it could to stay as low-key as possible," South China Morning Post quoted Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Taipei's Chinese Culture University as saying. The US Embassy was previously located on the former site of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Taiwan, which was established to defend the island nation from any military action from China before 1979.
In a first, the US-government linked American Institute in Taiwan confirmed on April 3 that active US military personnel have been stationed at its Taipei office since 2005. They would continue after the relocation as well, spokeswoman Amanda Mansour said. Under US President Donald Trump, Washington has backed Taiwan's pushback against China. In fact, USA's National Security Advisor John Bolton extended his support to Taiwan when China allegedly breached the median line in the Taiwan Strait on March 31.
In the wake of the prevailing tensions, Taiwan has also submitted a request with the United States for purchasing F-16 jets and M-1 tanks to enhance its military capabilities. China has opposed it as well as "US military contact with Taiwan." Experts, however, have speculated that because the United States and China are currently engaged in trade negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the trade dispute, the United States may not honour Taiwan's request for the F-16 purchase.
"We're determined to deal with any reckless military adventure by the bully across the #Taiwan Strait. Provocation only makes us stronger..." Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted after claiming that two Chinese J-11 fighter jets had crossed the median line, violating an agreement between China and Taiwan. China has maintained that Taiwan is a part of the country's internal affairs, slamming "outside interference". Beijing has regarded Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory, even though the island has been de facto independent from mainland China since the civil war of 1949.
(With inputs from agencies.)