The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said it would reopen its representative office in Guam, three years after it was closed due to budget constraints.
Guam has expressed interest in reopening to visitors, but the move likely has nothing to do with tourism. Taiwanese visitors to the territory account for only about 2 percent of all visitors, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau, and those in need of consular services could already travel to nearby ally Palau.
The Central News Agency cited the ministry as saying that “economic and trade cooperation, and exchanges between Taiwan and the greater Western Pacific region” were key reasons for reopening the office. Guam sends most of its exports to Palau, Hong Kong, the Philippines and South Korea, and receives most of its imports from Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. One of Guam’s major imports is computers, so there might be room for Taiwan to gain market share, but the timing of the reopening suggests that even trade was not a consideration.
US-China relations have ebbed, and on Thursday US lawmakers approved a bill to impose penalties on banks that do business with Chinese officials, a retaliatory move after Beijing imposed controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong. The US has also taken measures to limit exports to the territory.
Tensions were already high as the US and China have been locked in a trade conflict, and have butted heads over security concerns related to Chinese technology. The dispute has been exacerbated by growing anti-China sentiment amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong.
To the US, Taiwan has always been of strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region, and with growing tensions over Chinese aggression, US politicians appear to be voicing greater support for strengthening US-Taiwan relations. An April 20 New York Times article said that US military officials were seeking funds to bolster defenses in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China. The article said that officials had proposed several projects, including upgrading missile systems in Guam, establishing intelligence-sharing centers in Southeast Asia, and placing radar stations in Palau and elsewhere. Taiwan — which has long had a presence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific — could be a helpful partner in establishing such radar and intelligence-sharing facilities.
It is likely that the Ministry of National Defense already cooperates with the US on intelligence sharing, and the US Navy this year has passed through or near Taiwanese territorial waters on numerous occasions to match movements by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. If the reopening of the Guam office is not related to such intelligence sharing or military cooperation, then it should be.
US President Donald Trump has said that he wants to see US allies shoulder more of the burden for their defenses, and the Taiwanese government might want to look at how the US and Taiwan could cooperate to streamline defense spending in the region.
Former White House national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday urged Taiwan to continue working with members of the US Congress regardless of the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election. US politicians across party lines are rethinking the US-China relationship, and there is strong support for Taiwan in both major US parties, he said.
Taiwan and Guam are part of the first and second island chains respectively, and it is imperative that they cooperate on defense. Taiwan could encourage the US to install a permanent military presence in Taiwan, whether that is an intelligence-gathering unit, a US Navy contingent or just advisers. Both sides could link satellites or missile systems, which could then be linked with systems in Okinawa and South Korea. This would send a clear message to Beijing.
Neither Taiwan nor the US desires war, but given China’s increasingly aggressive and unpredictable nature, they must be well prepared.
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