Taipei (AFP) – An assistant US secretary of state will attend the unveiling of a massive new complex for Washington’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, a visit less likely to unnerve Beijing which was 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) on June 12, 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 Trump’s cabinet — secretary of health and human services Alex Azar — was a possibility.
But the AIT said in a statement Sunday that Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, will visit Taiwan June 10-14 and attend the ceremony.
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 Royce will “also hold discussions with… Taiwan authorities on the many partnerships and exchanges between the US and Taiwan”.
Royce is the wife of pro-Taiwan congressman and House foreign affairs committee chairman Ed Royce.
The completion of the new AIT offices — built over nine years at a cost of $250 million — comes amid closer US-Taiwan ties.
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 Trump heads to Singapore for a landmark nuclear summit with Kim Jong Un. The US leader has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for whirlwind diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang in recent months.
The AIT will move into its new complex later this year.