Zero Hedge

Looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… but when does an embassy “American Institute” finally gain official status as an embassy? Some say that the moment the Marine security detail shows up — a specially trained unit attached to every American embassy throughout the world — it’s pretty much a done deal.

File image via VOA News

CNN has reported a new bombshell in US-China-Taiwan relations which is already sending shock waves throughout the region as it seems to negate the official US stance of the “One China Policy” — but which landed with a whimper in Western media over the weekend.

CNN reports:

The State Department has requested that US Marines be sent to Taiwan to help safeguard America’s de facto embassy there, two US officials tell CNN, prompting China to urge the US to “exercise caution.”

One US official said that while the request for a Marine security guard was received several weeks ago, it has not yet been formally approved and coordination about its deployment is ongoing between the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Marines.

Considering that unnamed officials leaked news of the impending Marine guard deployment to the “de facto embassy” in Taiwan, it appears well on its way to happening, which would constitute the first time in almost 40 years that US Marines will stand guard over a diplomatic post in Taiwan.

As to the uncertain question of whether or not the US has actually pulled the trigger, CNN continues:

A spokesperson for the State Department would not say whether the request had been made, telling CNN, “We do not discuss specific security matters concerning the protection of our facility or personnel.”

The initial Chinese response has been predictably firm but restrained as news of the request for Marines came a mere days after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis concluded his first – supposedly conciliatory – trip to Beijing and as tensions loom over Trump’s threatening to impose an additional round of tariffs on Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded as follows when asked about the potential Marine embassy security deployment at a news conference on Friday: “That the US strictly abides by its ‘one China’ pledge and refrains from having any official exchanges or military contact with Taiwan are the political preconditions for China-US relations,” he said. “The US is clear about the Chinese position and knows it should exercise caution on this issue to avoid affecting overall bilateral ties.”

Since 1979 the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) has been considered Washington’s “officially unofficial” embassy in Taipei, Taiwan (established as part of the Taiwan Relations Act), and is staffed by State Department personnel who provide services in a quasi-embassy capacity. It was that year that the US initiated its One China Policy — de-recognizing the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan or the ROC) while formally recognizing the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) instead.

The AIT “undertakes a wide range of activities representing US interests, including commercial services, agricultural sales, consular services, and cultural exchanges,” according to the US State Department.

During their meeting last week, President Xi Jinping reportedly told Mattis that China will not give up “any inch of territory” in the Pacific Ocean, though not naming Taiwan specifically. Mattis told reporters afterward that the talks had been “very, very” good and had previously praised the developing “military-to-military relationship” between the two countries.

However, CNN cites two anonymous senior defense officials who said said that Chinese officials raised the issue of Taiwan “multiple times” and “expressed their concerns” during their meetings with Mattis over recent developments like the Taiwan Travel Act, passed in March, which encourages more frequent diplomatic exchanges and visits between US and Taiwanese officials.

According to CNN, Mattis responded by saying he would not give any “direction to military components to do anything differently” regarding Taiwan. The defense officials told CNN, “It wasn’t an area that we wanted deep discussion on because we expect it to be an irritant.”

No doubt the onslaught of recent developments centering on the American Institute is immensely worrying for the Chinese, as earlier this month the US launched the official opening of the Institute’s new state of the art facility, which cost $255 million to build, and the naming of a new “director” of the AIT’s Tapei office — career American diplomat William Brent Christensen — essentially filling the role of de facto US ambassador to Taiwan. 

China’s Foreign Ministry had lodged a formal protest with the US upon the opening ceremony for the new building, which had State Department representatives in official attendance, though no cabinet-level officials, as the Trump administration quietly sought to assure China that the opening would be low-key.

Meanwhile, President Trump while speaking to Fox Business on Sunday refused to back down on prior threats to further ratchet up tariffs on Chinese goods: “The tariffs are – well, in fact, It could go up to $500 [billion], frankly, if we don’t make a deal, and they want to make a deal,” Trump said during an interview. “I will tell you, China wants to make a deal, and so do I, but it’s got to be a fair deal for this country.”

A brief reminder on the latest state of developing tit-for-tat trade war:

Already, the White House has imposed a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods containing ‘industrially significant technologies” in an escalating, tit-for-tat conflict between the world’s two largest economies.

In response, China slapped tariffs worth $34 billion on 545 American goods. In mid-June, Trump warned that if Beijing went through with the tariffs, he would impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of goods.

Maybe, but for now trade wars remain mostly bluster. If and when they escalate to their full potential, as shown below, watch out below. That may happen as soon as July 6, when tariffs of 25% on some $34BN in Chinese products will go into effect.

In a remark now driving world headlines, Trump added, “The European Union is possibly as bad as China just smaller, OK,”Trump said. And concluded, “It’s terrible what they did to us.”

Trump tweeted in March that trade wars are “good, and easy to win” — yet when combined with potentially explosive geopolitical issues such as what may appear in Chinese eyes a practical abandonment of the One China Policy (a status quo already subject to differing interpretations), the trade war is already proving not in the least bit “easy” with “winning” looking increasingly like a relative and elastic term.