Washington will send an assistant secretary of state to open its de facto embassy in Taiwan this week – the same day US President Donald Trump meets his North Korean counterpart in Singapore – as it tries to avoid angering Beijing.
Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, will open the American Institute in Taiwan on Tuesday, the institute said in a statement on Sunday.
Her husband Ed Royce is chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, who has promoted several pro-Taiwan bills including the Taiwan Travel Act.
Despite media speculation earlier this year that Trump may even send his new national security adviser John Bolton to the opening ceremony, sources told the South China Morning Post last week that the Trump administration decided not to send a cabinet-level official to the ceremony to avoid a strong response from Beijing.
The opening coincides with the highly anticipated summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which key diplomatic and security figures in the US administration are expected to attend.
China strongly opposes official ties between the US and Taiwan, a self-ruled island that is seen by Beijing as a breakaway province subject to eventual unification, by force if necessary.
The American Institute in Taiwan is financed by the US government and has managed unofficial ties with Taiwan since Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. Cabinet-level US officials have previously visited the island unofficially.
The opening of the US$240 million office compound comes amid heightened tensions across the Taiwan Strait in recent months. Beijing has ramped up pressure against the independence movement in Taiwan, stepping up military drills around the island and putting the squeeze on its international space as it lures away diplomatic allies. Trump meanwhile in March signed into law an act allowing officials at all levels of the US government, including the most senior, to travel to Taiwan.
Relations between Washington and Beijing are also under strain amid an ongoing trade row and disputes over China’s militarisation of the South China Sea. The US is reportedly considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, probably an aircraft carrier, US officials said last week.
A statement from Taiwan’s foreign ministry did not say whether Republican congressman Ed Royce would accompany his wife to the ceremony on Tuesday, but as a lawmaker he has visited the island six times – most recently in March after the travel act took effect, for which he received an honorary medal from the island’s parliament. That came after he was presented with a top honour by the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in September, recognising outstanding contributions to the island’s development.
During her visit, Marie Royce will hold talks with local officials on partnerships and exchanges between the United States and Taiwan, meet alumni of US exchange programmes, and engage with the local and foreign business community on entrepreneurship and the business climate, according to the institute.
Republican representative Gregg Harper, co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Taiwan Caucus, will also attend the opening ceremony.