US official at unveiling of de facto embassy in Taipei

TAIPEI • An assistant US secretary of state will be at the unveiling of a massive new complex for Washington's de facto embassy in Taiwan, a visit less likely to unnerve Beijing which had been concerned that higher-level American officials may attend.

There was speculation that US President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton may attend the unveiling ceremony at the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) tomorrow, which would have made him one of the most senior American officials to visit Taiwan since 1979 and likely drawn China's ire.

Local media also reported last week that a visit by a member of Mr Trump's Cabinet - Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar - was a possibility.

But the AIT said in a statement yesterday that Mrs Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, will be at the ceremony. She was set to arrive yesterday and stay till Thursday.

Washington gave up official diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 to recognise Beijing, but it remains the island's most powerful ally and top arms supplier.

Taiwan-US relations have since been handled delicately and in a low-key manner through the AIT to avoid riling China - which sees the island as part of its territory to be reunified, by force if necessary.

The AIT said Mrs Royce will "also hold discussions with... Taiwan authorities on the many partnerships and exchanges between the US and Taiwan".

Mrs Royce is the wife of pro-Taiwan congressman and House foreign affairs committee chairman Ed Royce.

The completion of the AIT offices in Taipei - built over nine years at a cost of US$250 million (S$333 million) comes amid closer US-Taiwan relations.

Mr Trump in March approved new rules allowing top US officials to travel to the island. The move angered Beijing, which called on Washington to "correct its mistake".

There have also been expressions of support for Taipei from US officials and lawmakers in the face of growing pressure from Beijing, which has lured away Taiwan's allies and blocked the island's participation in international events.

The Royce announcement also comes at a time when the US and China are locked in tense trade negotiations, and as Mr Trump arrived in Singapore for a landmark nuclear summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

The AIT will move into its new complex later this year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2018, with the headline 'US official at unveiling of de facto embassy in Taipei'. Print Edition | Subscribe