State Department's Request to Send Marines to Taiwan Irks China

Marine security guards march to a hall in Quantico, Va., following their graduation. The State Department reportedly wants to send a Marine security guard detachment to Taiwan, a move proving unpopular with the Chinese. (Lance Cpl. Antwaun L. Jefferson/Marine Corps)
Marine security guards march to a hall in Quantico, Va., following their graduation. The State Department reportedly wants to send a Marine security guard detachment to Taiwan, a move proving unpopular with the Chinese. (Lance Cpl. Antwaun L. Jefferson/Marine Corps)

A Chinese official is warning the U.S. to "exercise caution" following a report that the State Department wants to send a small team of Marines to guard a diplomatic facility in Taiwan.

The State Department requested that a Marine Security Guard detachment be dispatched to the American Institute in Taiwan, a de facto embassy in Taipei City, CNN reported Friday.

The news prompted a swift response from a Chinese foreign ministry official, who reminded Americans of the "one-China policy" meant to prevent the U.S. from having direct diplomatic or military exchanges with Taiwan.

"[Those] are the political preconditions for China-U.S. relations," Lu Kang, a ministry spokesman, said in a press conference Friday. "The U.S. ... knows it should exercise caution on this issue to avoid affecting overall bilateral ties."

Maj. Brian Block, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, deferred all questions about the State Department's request to that agency.

A State Department official, who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity, stressed that there is "no change to our 'one-China' policy based on the three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act."

The official, however, declined to comment on the reported request to send Marines to Taiwan.

"‎We do not discuss specific security matters concerning the protection of our facilities or personnel," the official said.

If the State Department's request is granted, it would mark the first time in nearly four decades that Marines would be guarding a diplomatic post in Taiwan, CNN reported.

Marine Security Guard detachments are typically small -- as few as six Marines in some areas and up to 13 in riskier locations. Their primary duty is to protect classified documents at U.S. facilities, though they will guard the building and people during times of duress.

The American Institute in Taiwan recently doubled in size following the addition of a $250 million facility there. It houses about 450 staff members, according to CNN, and signifies a "strong and enduring American commitment to the island and its people," Richard Bush, an expert with the Brookings Institution and former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, wrote in May.

"China is not happy with the scope and scale of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, particularly in the security field," Bush said. "If it had its way, it would probably prefer that Washington have a simple trade office in Taipei, as other countries have."

State Department officials declined to address questions about any timelines it has for sending Marines to guard the new facility.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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