External of the American Institute in Taiwan's new compound, which is set to open its doors in September. Photo: Handout
External of the American Institute in Taiwan's new compound, which is set to open its doors in September. Photo: Handout

When the new compound housing Washington’s de-facto embassy in Taipei begins operations in September, the Pentagon will assign an undisclosed number of its elite Marines to protect it. The symbolic move marks the return of US military personnel to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its breakaway province.

Prior to Washington shifting its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, the Pentagon stationed its Military Assistance and Advisory Group in Taiwan. The group’s declared purpose was to provide consultation to the fledgling Taiwanese military in the wake of the Korean War.

Like most US embassies, legations and consulates overseas, the American Institute in Taiwan’s brand-new complex in Taipei will soon be guarded by members of the Marine Corps. However, the mission of the detachment set to descend upon the self-ruling island would be “different from that of other US Marines, whose primary mission would be confined to combat”, said the Taipei Times on Sunday, citing a source familiar with the matter.

A photo dated on June 12 shows a US flag flying over the compound of the American Institute in Taiwan’s dedication ceremony of the new complex. Photo: Taiwan Central News Agency

The newspaper noted in a report that the stationing of the guards could be considered “a representation of how much the US values its relationship with Taiwan”.

In a reciprocal move, Taipei has also signalled its hopes to resume stationing military police at its office in Washington, which currently hires local security personnel.

Earlier this year, former AIT chief and US consul-general to Hong Kong Stephen Young revealed that a “marine house” would be established, and that this was something he fought for during his tenure.

Meanwhile, China’s Global Times has been quick to question the details of the US Marine deployment. It wants to know under what organisational name should the Marines operate, and whether they might maintain a low-key presence, or wear their uniforms when stationed at the AIT.

“Posting US Marines to the AIT would mean a public declaration that the AIT is equivalent to a US embassy or consulate instead of a non-governmental organization,” said the nationalist tabloid in an op-ed, which went so far as to suggest that such a deployment could constitute “an invasion by the US military of Chinese soil”.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech at the dedication ceremony of AIT’s new compound. Photo: Taiwan Central News Agency

Taiwanese secessionists tend to hype up issues related to such a deployment, but if Washington “stirs up trouble over the case and makes extreme arrangements, it knows how Beijing will respond”, Global Times warned.

Stationing Marines to protect US diplomatic missions  has been a security arrangement since the end of World War II.

According to the US Department of State, Marine Security Guards provide a 24-hour, daily cleared American presence at designated diplomatic missions around the world. Their primary mission is to prevent the compromise of classified information and equipment vital to the national security and to protect US citizens and government property located within designated diplomatic and consular premises during exigent circumstances.

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