Taiwanese politicians have high hopes that the United States will send cabinet-level officials to visit the self-governed island this autumn, despite it choosing not to do so for the unveiling of its de facto embassy in Taipei.
The dedication ceremony for the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which will serve as a US mission on the island as the two sides do not have formal diplomatic ties, starts at 9am on Tuesday in the city’s Neihu district.
The most senior US official to attend and speak at the unveiling of the US$250 million facility will be assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs Marie Royce, who is also the wife of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Ed Royce – a long-time advocate for Taiwan.
US Congressman Gregg Harper, co-chair of the US Congressional Taiwan Caucus, will be one of the guests of honour.
“We have to respect the US scheduling, since the AIT opening is their celebratory event,” said Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and chair of the foreign affairs and national defence committee.
“But I believe there will be more and more US visitors to Taiwan in the future,” he said.
“Based on US-Taiwan exchanges, we can anticipate in the foreseeable future … political figures on the level of US secretary of state, or National Security Adviser John Bolton, or high-level former military officials, coming to Taiwan.”
While there was talk of a cabinet-level official attending the event, once it became clear it would fall on the same day US President Donald Trump was to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, the Taipei ceremony, not surprisingly, lost some of its sheen.
Also, if the White House had dispatched a cabinet secretary to the event, it would have drawn the ire of Beijing, Taiwanese legislators said.
The ceremony was a potential flashpoint in China-US relations. Beijing sees Taiwan a renegade province that must one day be reunited with mainland China, by force if necessary. And while Washington has long switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, it has kept its commitment to the security of the democratic self-ruled island.
Several cabinet-level US officials were considered as possible attendees at the ceremony, but the US ultimately decided not to send any to avoid “stealing the media spotlight”, according to Lo Chih-cheng, also from the DPP.
“If they sent someone very senior to Taiwan, [mainland] China would not be happy and it could have had an impact on the Trump-Kim summit,” said Lo, who is also a member of the legislature’s foreign affairs and national defence committee.
“We accept this, but in September when the AIT is officially open, we hope someone of a higher level will come,” he said.
“Overall, the new office reflects that the US and Taiwan have had a long-term, stable relationship.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will speak at the unveiling event, as will AIT Chairman James Moriarty and AIT Director Kin Moy.
In a congratulatory statement issued on Sunday, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the new compound marked “a milestone that reflects the importance of the US-Taiwan partnership”.
The US and Taiwan shared values and enjoyed close cooperation on a wide range of regional and global issues, she said, adding that the new building best represented the “progress in bilateral ties made over the past years”.
On Monday, Harper, who arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, said the fact the US had spent such a significant amount of money to build the new complex was a symbol of its commitment to Taiwan, and that Washington would continue to back the island.
The AIT began planning the development of a new compound in 2006 and construction began in 2009. The Neihu office was expected to officially open for business in early September, Moy said.