More than a building, new AIT complex bears hope of stronger Taiwan-US ties

The presence of several high-level Taiwanese officials at the AIT dedication ceremony shows how the Taiwan government prioritizes its relationship with the US

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The new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (Source: AIT)

The new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (Source: AIT)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – After over nine years of construction with a budget of US$255 million, the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) was finally unveiled on June 12. It is expected to begin operations in September. 

Despite a lack of high-level U.S. administration members attending the dedication ceremony on Tuesday morning, AIT Chairman James Moriarty said the new office complex is “a testament to the strong U.S. commitment to Taiwan.”

The AIT dedicates its new office complex on June 12 (Teng Pei-ju)

The dedication ceremony, held in front of a building with a huge official seal of the Department of State hung on its façade, was an occasion where U.S. and Taiwanese officials and representatives reaffirmed their ties and celebrated what they considered a milestone of the Taiwan-U.S. relationship.

The seal of the U.S. Department of State (Teng Pei-ju)

Founded in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the AIT has functioned as an unofficial U.S. embassy since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China in 1979. For nearly four decades, the AIT has worked under the policies of the U.S. government and provided various services, including consular services, to American and Taiwanese citizens on the island.

The AIT serves approximately 79,000 U.S. citizens residing in Taiwan. The institute processed 34,000 visas in 2017, said Travis Sevy, AIT’s consular officer, in front of the 19 consular windows of the new complex during a press tour before Tuesday’s ceremony.  

AIT’s new office complex (Teng Pei-ju)

The compound, with a five-floor office and other buildings taking up roughly one-third of the entire 6.5-hectare site, is the the first consular facility entirely planned and built by a foreign representative office in Taiwan. It will accommodate all of AIT’s sections and operations, which are currently scattered throughout Taipei, with most sections housed in the main office in Da’an District, where nearly 500 Americans and Taiwanese are employed by the institute.

The new office complex, designed by American architect Moore Ruble Yudell, is said to be an “expression of the values of American democracy, and a demonstration of respect for Taiwan,” according to the AIT.

The complex boasts a modern, green building which contains water- and energy-saving facilities. It also houses a number of artworks created by Taiwanese and U.S. artists that reflect the cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

When the new office complex is open in September, visa applicants and American citizens will enter the compound from what is called the “Butterfly Pavilion.” Displayed on the circular wall of the pavilion are a variety of butterflies that exist in Taiwan, which used to be hailed as the kingdom of butterflies. The pavilion also displays information on America’s and Taiwan’s geography.  

Toy Reid, AIT’s political officer, introduces a piece of calligraphy created by Fu Shen (Teng Pei-ju)

“It represents much more than steel and glass and concrete,” said Marie Royce, deputy assistant of state sent by the U.S. government to attend the ceremony. “The new office complex is a symbol of the strength and vibrancy of the U.S.-Taiwan partnership in the 21st century.” 

The ceremony, which saw the presence of numerous high-level Taiwanese officials among the roughly 200 guests, showed how the Taiwan government prioritizes its relationship with the U.S., especially as Taiwan is faced with growing diplomatic challenges and military threats from China.

At the end the event, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier William Lai (賴清德) joined the U.S. officials to put their chosen objects into a time capsule box prepared by the AIT. President Tsai chose a photo of her and AIT Director Kin Moy, taken after they toured the new office complex in May, as well as a copy of “Beyond Beauty — Taiwan from above,” a documentary produced by late Taiwanese filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林). 

As for the Premier, Lai put a photo of him with American Congressman Ed Royce, husband of assistant secretary of state Royce. The picture was taken after Ed Royce, who visited Taiwan in March, presented a copy of the Taiwan Travel Act to Lai. The Travel Act, which passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this year, encourages mutual visits at all levels by U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.

AIT Director Kin Moy introduces the Butterfly Pavilion to Premier William Lai (Source: AIT)

The time capsule box will be buried somewhere in the new compound and unearthed in the future after decades have passed, according to the AIT. 

(AIT’s new office complex Teng Pei-ju)