A board outside the construction site of the new venue of the American Institute in Taiwan in Taipei's Neihu district. Photo: AIT
A board outside the construction site of the new venue of the American Institute in Taiwan in Taipei's Neihu district. Photo: AIT

Washington’s de facto ambassador to Taipei says a number of “good friends from the United States” will attend and officiate at the upcoming dedication of the American Institute in Taiwan’s new complex on June 12.

AIT Director Kin Moy said the line-up of VIPs would include AIT Chairman James Moriarty, President Donald Trump’s point man on Taiwan affairs. And sources say “very senior” officials from the US Department of State will cut the ribbon with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at the dedication of the new office of the United States’ quasi- diplomatic mission on the self-ruling island.

Given that the ceremony will be the first major public event related to Taiwan-US relations since the enactment of the US Taiwan Travel Act in March, there is much speculation about how senior the representatives from Washington might be, as a gauge of the substance of the new law. But one thing is for sure: The sight of senior US officials standing alongside Tsai will be galling to Beijing.

Beijing has been watching closely to see who will eventually show up on the island that it regards as a renegade province of China.

Citing a source at the Washington-based think-tank Stimson Center, Taiwan’s Central News Agency has reported that Trump could dispatch “a ministerial-level official” to attend the event, but do not expect the secretary of state or secretary of defense to descend upon the island, as Trump is also mindful of not drawing Beijing’s ire.

Moy has so far remained tight-lipped, noting only that “there will certainly be good friends of Taiwan coming from Washington to help us celebrate…. You will recognize a number of these good friends.”

Moy said people should focus on the completion of the compound itself, rather than visiting dignitaries, “as the new complex is the first purpose-built facility by a foreign representative office in the island and a tangible symbol of, as well as a historic milestone in, the Taiwan-US friendship,” according to Taipei Times.

Moy only added at a brief press conference earlier this week that it would take a month or more to relocate all sections and division to the new venue in Taipei’s Neihu district, so people should still go to AIT’s old Xinyi office for visa and consular services.

Alongside nationals of US allies such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom and 32 other nations, Taiwanese passport holders do not need to acquire a visa beforehand to go to the US for sightseeing, business or visiting friends or relatives.

Construction of the US$242.6 million compound began in 2009 on a 6.5-hectare leased plot. The new facility will house all of AIT’s departments, including sections now in separate locations throughout Taipei.

AIT also has a consulate-like branch in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

AIT officials dodged questions about the rumored deployment of a US Marine Corps guard detachment at the new complex, as most US embassies and consulates have.

AIT says it has a small number of US personnel who coordinate with local security staff to provide security for the building and staff.

“That situation will continue with the new AIT [venue],” it said, adding that the security structure would not change, as Washington’s China policy has not changed.

Moy, who took over as AIT director in June 2015, is expected to leave Taipei this summer, although given the slowness with which the Trump administration has been able to fill key diplomatic posts, concern has been expressed in Taiwan media that the appointment of the next AIT director could be delayed.

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