When news first broke last summer that the US was weighing the use of US Marines as guards at the new AIT building, as it uses them for security at other, more formal embassies, the People's Republic of China let Washington know in no uncertain terms exactly what it thought of the move.
"Severe subversion," a July 2018 op-ed in the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times termed the move, saying it might amount to "even an invasion of the US military on Chinese soil."
Beijing is so sensitive to the question of US relations with Taiwan because it regards the self-governing island as part of its territory. In 1949, the Communist Red Army, led by Mao Zedong, was victorious in the 20-year-long civil war and conquered all of mainland China, establishing the People's Republic centered in Beijing. However, the old Republic of China wasn't totally destroyed — it retained control over the island of Taiwan, which the PLA couldn't easily invade. Since then, both Taipei and Beijing have claimed to be the single legitimate representative of China on the world stage, calling the other an impostor government.
For 20 years, the United States, and many Western governments, only did business with the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) and refused to allow Beijing to, for example, sit at the United Nations, until 1971. By January 1979, however, the US had recognized the People's Republic of China as the only China. However, that same year, Congress also established the Taiwan Relations Act, which laid out the complex ways in which Washington would continue its relationship with Taipei, including providing its military with weapons, while being careful not to anger Beijing too much. The 40th anniversary of the passage of that bill, as well as the establishment of the AIT, is next Wednesday: April 10.
So when AIT announced its new compound in Taipei's Neihu District would have a US Marine security detail, it came as a bit of a shock to many.
"Since 2005, US government personnel detailed to AIT have included active duty military, including service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines," AIT spokesperson Amanda Mansour told Taiwan Central News Agency on Wednesday. The new $250 million facility will officially open on May 6, according to a video posted on the institute's Facebook page.
TCNA noted that comments by AIT's former director, Stephen Young, in 2017 had also hinted at the prolonged presence of US troops at the institute, but never before confirmed it so explicitly.
Mansour told reporters the Marines would not wear uniforms while on duty, so as not to attract attention or too openly provoke Beijing, but kept mum on just how many would be stationed there.
Last August, Yang Xiyu, senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies think tank, told Sputnik that such a development would "inevitably cause double consequences."
"First and foremost, the Taiwan issue is the most sensitive and contentious problem in Sino-US relations. Any actions to ignore the one-China principle will be a serious blow to bilateral ties. If the US Marines are deployed to the AIT, it will further deepen negative factors in relations between Beijing and Washington," he said, warning, "The US has repeatedly provoked China, testing its patience."
"If this escalation continues, it will lead to disastrous consequences for the situation in Taiwan," Yang told Sputnik.
While the Global Times hasn't weighed in specifically on the revelations yet, an April 1 article did address Washington's renewed enthusiasm for its relationship with Taiwan, which includes the recently approved sale of 60 advanced F-16V "Viper" jets, a roughly equal match for Beijing's new J-10 Menglong fighter. The US hasn't sold jets to Taipei since 1992 and typically passes off second-hand equipment to the country, not top-of-the-line, upgraded models.
"The US has been playing the Taiwan card in a more radical way lately, and such risky actions may result in a heavy blow to overall China-US relations," Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University's Institute of International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times for a Monday article.
The article also blasted Washington for the three transits of the Taiwan Strait made by US warships this year, with the most recent being a US Navy destroyer and US Coast Guard cutter on March 24, and the expected visit next week by high-level diplomatic officials to the island to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act.
Beijing's anxiety about the growing closeness between Taipei and Washington can be seen in a Sunday event in the Taiwan Strait, when two PLA J-11 fighter jets crossed the median line, the first breach of the tacit border since 1999.