An undated photo of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan being built in Taipei's Neihu district. Photo: Handout

A “very high-ranking” official from the US State Department is likely to visit Taiwan in June to officiate at the opening of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei’s Neihu district, Liberty Times and Taipei Times have reported, citing a Taiwanese government official.

Just how high that official’s rank is will be a direct indicator of how much weight the Taiwan-US relationship enjoys in President Donald Trump’s overall diplomacy policies. It will also indicate the substance of Washington’s support after the US Congress’ passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, which authorizes high-level reciprocal exchanges between US and Taiwan officials, said the papers.

Trump signed the bill into law last month to strong objections from Beijing.

Taiwan’s National Police Agency and other national-security organizations are to provide assistance if requested by the US government, the two papers quoted the Taiwanese government source as saying.

Some observers have suggested that Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will open the new complex.

The AIT is a non-profit organization established in 1979 after Washington’s shift of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. It has since been tasked with serving US interests on the self-ruling island under the auspices of the State Department.

AIT directors hold the same rank as ambassadors and are accorded diplomatic privileges.

A satellite image of the new AIT complex in Taipei. Photo: Handout

The opening of the new AIT compound, built on a 6.5-hectare plot leased for 99 years from Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, will be “one of many diplomatic events between the two nations this year,” said a spokesman for President Tsai Ing-wen’s office.

Tsai is “very likely” to attend the opening ceremony.

One other event scheduled to boost ties is the Taiwan-US Defense Business Forum to be held in Kaohsiung in May.

In a video posted on the AIT’s YouTube page, the Mandarin-speaking AIT director Kin W Moy offered a peek into the new compound. 

Furthermore, the opening of a US Marine Corps (USMC) barracks, known as Marine House, at the AIT compound is to be marked by a separate ceremony where a “senior US military officer” is expected to attend.

Stationing a small batch of marines at the new complex is seen as Washington according impetus to fostering ties with Taipei, said former AIT director Stephen Young, who also served as US consul general to Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, according to a former official familiar with the matter, the US government has laid down strict security requirements for the institute’s new compound.

A multi-layered security perimeter and security detail for the AIT director are likely to incorporate US marines and Diplomatic Security Service agents, local security guards, the former official said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that Taipei municipal authorities had stepped up police presence in streets around the new AIT compound.

As well, the island’s national-security agency was said to be in close collaboration with the AIT and members of the USMC deployed on the island to lay down security and emergency response protocols to ensure absolute safety of officials on the inauguration day of the new complex.

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