The US Marine Corps is considering a controversial plan to use a detachment of Marine security guards to protect the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) headquarters that will be built in Neihu District (內湖), Taipei City.
If the plan goes through, the Marine guards would be the first US military forces stationed in Taiwan since the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
It would be “a politically sensitive decision that could raise the ire of neighboring China,” the Marine Corps Times reported earlier this week.
A Washington source told the Taipei Times last month it was “highly unlikely” that Marines would replace the local guards used by the AIT.
However, a senior US government source told the Taipei Times that the Marine Corps — which is assigned to protect US government facilities abroad — held a special meeting with US State Department officials earlier this month in Washington to discuss proposals for protecting a number of new US embassy buildings.
The Marines had put the soon-to-be-built AIT headquarters in Taipei on the list.
The meeting ended before the matter could be addressed. It is now on the agenda for a future meeting.
Nevertheless, the fact that the AIT building was on the Marines’ list indicated that the idea may have support within the military.
“For 30 years, the US has operated what is widely described as a ‘de facto embassy’ in Taiwan, carrying out official business while functioning without a major piece of a US Embassy’s security plan: Marines. Soon, that could change,” the Marine Corps Times said.
“The Marine Corps and State Department may move forward with a plan to place a detachment of Marine security guards in Taiwan,” it said.
Almost a year ago, the Taipei Times reported there was a “possibility” that a barracks for US Marine security forces would be built at the new AIT headquarters, but at the time there were no plans to station Marines at the complex.
“There are discussions about having a new compound or new complex built to replace the existing AIT structure in Taipei,” US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said at the time.
“The notices that have gone out have included the broadest possible kinds of elements that might be included in there. But at this point I’m not aware that there are any plans to station US Marines at AIT in Taipei,” he said.
“Again, this is a request for proposals on a range of options for a new building and for a new compound. And again, there certainly would be a security element to that. There’s a security element in AIT there right now, though it isn’t US Marines that are providing it,” Casey said.
After the State Department gave the financial go-ahead last month to build a US$170 million new office complex for the AIT, the announcement of the phase one contract made no mention of a Marine facility, but said that the new complex would include “guard quarters.”
The Marine Corps Times quoted Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institute and who served as chair of AIT’s Washington office from 1997 to 2002, as saying: “Taiwan would be somewhat happy because [having Marines assigned] is a sign of officiality, but China would protest.”
The article also said that the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group had provided it with a list of 10 new duty stations “expected to open around the world in coming years” and that Taipei was on it.