Taiwan will reopen Guam office, a sign of stronger ties with the US in the face of tension with China

·4-min read

Taiwan will soon reopen its de facto consulate in Guam, bringing its total representative offices in the United States to 13, as the two parties forge stronger ties amid rising tensions with Beijing.

In a statement on Friday morning, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had consulted the US and was in the process of reopening its Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Guam, a US island territory, after operations were suspended in 2017 in a reallocation of the ministry’s budget and staff.

“Re-establishing the Taipei office in Guam can strengthen our country’s overall economic and trade exchanges and cooperative relations with the Western Pacific region, helping to deepen our country’s engagement with our allies in the Pacific, and enhance multilateral interaction,” the ministry said.

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Guam is strategically important in the Pacific as the site of a large US military base and located near Taiwan’s key remaining allies in the region – the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu.

Taiwan and the US have boosted their unofficial relations in recent years with arms sales and a law increasing the scope of their relations. Their relationship is in contrast to Beijing’s inflamed strategic rivalry with Washington and its frozen ties with Taipei.

Washington has been vocal in condemning Beijing for encircling Taiwan’s space in the international arena, which has cost Taiwan six diplomatic allies in the past four years, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own territory and has not renounced the use of force to bring it under its rule.

Taiwan closed its representative office in Guam in July 2017, along with its offices in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah and in Norway. But the upgraded importance of Taiwan’s strategic relations with the US and a greater foreign ministry budget led to the decision to resume its Guam office, the ministry said.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tweeted a photo on Friday afternoon of the island’s president Tsai Ing-wen on her trip to Guam in 2017 after visiting Taiwanese allies in the Pacific.

“Guam, Taiwan’s coming back!” he wrote.

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On Wednesday, Taiwan announced it would establish informal diplomatic relations with Somaliland, a self-declared state in East Africa without official recognition from United Nations member states. The move was seen as an attempt to fight Beijing’s persistent international pressure, which has left Taiwan with just 15 remaining allies.

US-Taiwan relations have become stronger in recent years, in contrast to their respective cool relationships with China. Photo: EPA
US-Taiwan relations have become stronger in recent years, in contrast to their respective cool relationships with China. Photo: EPA

Jonathan Sullivan, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham, said Tsai’s government was trying to consolidate Taiwan’s position as a member of “the club of liberal democracies”, given there was nothing it could feasibly do to de-escalate tensions with Beijing.

Sullivan said the island had been giving higher priority to its informal diplomatic relationships with the US in particular, but also Japan and the European Union, to fend off marginalisation by Beijing.

“Against this broader backdrop, any gains that Taiwan can make in terms of shoring up its diplomacy are a tonic, if only because the ROC [Republic of China] has been losing allies consistently throughout Tsai’s tenure,” he said, referring to the island by its formal name.

“Somaliland is interesting because of its previous [Belt and Road Initiative] commitments ... but Guam is much more important. It required the US government to sign off for one thing, he said, adding that it also reflected Taiwan’s place as a US partner in the Indo-Pacific.

Taipei said its operations in Guam would promote economic and people-to-people exchanges with the island, while serving Taiwanese companies and travellers there. The office, which allows Taiwan to carry out economic and cultural work in countries with which it does not have formal diplomatic relations, adds to existing representative offices for Taiwan in Washington, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, Hawaii, Denver, and Miami.

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