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Reports: Mattis directly rejected request to put Marines at de facto US embassy in Taiwan

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks with Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, during the Pentagon Memorial Observance Ceremony in Washington D.C., Sept. 11, 2018. (Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Department of Defense)
September 21, 2018

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has reportedly declined a request to send U.S. Marines to protect an embassy in Taiwan.

The State Department issued to the request to the Pentagon and expected to the Marines to deploy in Oct., but Mattis declined last month according to two officials who spoke to CNN last week.

A State Department official refused to discuss the decision, telling CNN: “we do not discuss specific security matters concerning the protection of our facilities or personnel.”

The request was made back in June, intending for the Marines to guard the American “de facto embassy,” for the first time in 40 years, CNN had reported. The building staffs approximately 450 people.

China has reportedly engaged in intimidation tactics against Taiwan, including flyovers and live-fire exercises. “The Chinese communists have been using cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling on every aspect of the Republic of China in the hope of affecting our morale or creating social unease,” defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told Reuters in April.

Now that the State Department request has been denied, security contractors were likely deployed in place of the Marines.

When the request was reported, there was a growing concern of how U.S. Marines’ presence in Taiwan might be perceived by China.

Its “One China Policy” does not recognize Taiwan’s independence, instead defining it as a wayward province. Since the U.S. also official recognizes the policy per their agreement with China, they do not maintain an “official” embassy in Taiwan. However, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 authorized the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) which currently serves as the de facto embassy.

In June, a Chinese official told the U.S. to “exercise caution” if it chose to station Marines at the AIT.

“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,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. “The US is clear about the Chinese position and knows it should exercise caution on this issue to avoid affecting overall bilateral ties.”

One official told CNN that the request was denied over constraint issues, not a matter of upsetting China. The official added that the Pentagon was not informed ahead of time that the request of Marines’ presence was tied to the construction of a new facility.

The denied request comes at a time of already high tensions between the U.S. and China, however. The two have been in an ongoing trade war, and the U.S. has accused China of meddling in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.

The U.S. has attempted to balance their Chinese relations and “One China Policy” agreement while maintaining support for Taiwan. Several U.S. diplomats were recalled from their posts after their respective assigned nations decided to end their recognition of Taiwan’s independence.