The Trump Administration on Tuesday opened a de facto embassy in Taiwan despite months of tension with China over trade and tariffs.
The $256 million facility represents a strengthening of ties between Taiwan and the United States, which has long been the island’s strongest ally and only foreign arms supplier. Taiwan split from China in 1949, but most governments still treat it as a part of China – meaning they maintain ties only with Beijing.
The United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, but continued to sell advanced weapons to the island under the Taiwan Relations Act for its self defense against China.
Ties between the US and Taiwan have grown stronger under President Trump, who earlier this year authorized US manufacturers to sell submarine technology to the island. In March, he signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages official visits between the two countries.
“As free and open democracies, we have an obligation to work with one another to defend our values and protect our joint interests,” said Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. “Nothing can stand between us.”
The Chinese government, on the other hand, responded to the embassy opening by accusing the US of violating the “one China” principle, harming relations with China, and exacerbating tensions in the militarized Taiwan Strait.
China’s hostility towards Taiwan has increased ever since the election of President Tsai in 2016.
Beijing bans Taiwan from membership in the UN and other international groups and has been slowly poaching its diplomatic allies until only 18 remain. Beijing also restricts travel to Taiwan and conducts regular military drills near the island.
The decision to open an embassy in Taiwan comes less than two weeks after the Trump Administration signed a deal with China to allow telecom company ZTE back into the US marketplace. Last week, Trump met with his trade advisers to consider Beijing’s offer to import an extra $70 billion in American goods over the next year.
“It’s been said before that Taiwan is being used as a bargaining chip, and so far we cannot rule that out,” says former strategic studies professor Lin Chong-pin, who worries the embassy is just another part of Trump’s plan to get what he wants from China.
In my opinion, President Trump is going all out to establish negotiating positions with China (no other president has had the guts to do this) and sees Taiwan as an ally that needs protection.