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US unveils de facto embassy in Taiwan amid China tensions

  • Jess Macy Yu

    Reuters

Taipei | Tue, June 12, 2018 | 07:45 am
US unveils de facto embassy in Taiwan amid China tensions This handout picture taken and released by the Taiwan Presidential Office on May 4, 2018 shows Star Wars fans posing for photographs at the Presidential Office in Taipei. (Agence France -Presse/Handout / Taiwan Presidential Office /)

The United States will unveil a new $250 million representative office Taiwan's capital on Tuesday, a de facto embassy that underscores Washington's strategic ties with the democratic, self-ruled island as it faces escalating tensions with China.

Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 but remains the island's strongest ally and sole foreign arms supplier. It opened the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) to conduct relations between the two sides after severing ties.

The new complex, a significant 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, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, and U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper are expected to attend Tuesday's ceremony.

Royce is the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 2015.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan under its "one China" policy and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it sees as a wayward province under its control.

China's hostility towards Taiwan has grown since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016. Beijing suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

Tsai, who has said she wants to maintain the status quo but will protect Taiwan's security and not be bullied by Beijing, is expected to give a speech at the new AIT office on Tuesday.

Widely read Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times said on Tuesday China needed to warn Taiwan and the United States against provocation.

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

Taiwan recently lost two diplomatic allies after they switched ties to China, while some international companies have changed their websites to show the island's designation as being part of China.

China has also stepped up military drills, sending bombers and jet fighters on exercises near the island that Taipei has denounced as intimidation.

Taiwan has lobbied Washington to sell it more advanced equipment, including new fighter jets, to bolster its defences. 

 

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