US troops are training with Taiwanese soldiers on the island, in an effort to increase defense capability amid China’s escalating military provocations, Taiwan’s president has confirmed.
”We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability,” Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN published on Thursday.
Asked how many US forces were in Taiwan, she said “not as many as people thought.”
Tsai’s comments corroborate reports from earlier this month that about two dozen members of a US special operations unit were working with Taiwan’s military and a contingent of Marines were training local forces to bolster defenses in light of China’s aggressive behavior.
China, which views self-ruled Taiwan as a rogue province, has ramped up military operations in the region and sent dozens of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone, prompting Washington to warn Beijing over the “provocative military activity.”
Tsai said the threat from China is escalating “every day” and described Taiwan as a “beacon” of democracy in the region.
“Here is this island of 23 million people trying hard every day to protect ourselves and protect our democracy and making sure that our people have the kind of freedom they deserve,” she said in the CNN interview.
“If we fail, then that means people that believe in these values would doubt whether these are values that they (should) be fighting for,” Tsai added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to achieve a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, saying that would best serve the interests of the Taiwanese people.
“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese leader said. “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”
Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng also called training between US and Taiwan forces “quite a lot and quite frequent.”
“During these exchanges, any topic can be discussed,” he told reporters Thursday, according to Reuters.
Chiu also noted that Tsai did not say US forces are permanently based in Taiwan, after lawmakers questioned whether their presence would give China a reason to attack.
“There is no connection between personnel exchanges and the stationing of troops,” Chiu said.
According to the 1979 Taiwan agreement, the US must provide aid if Taiwan is attacked.
President Biden, in a CNN town hall last Thursday, committed the US to coming to Taiwan’s defense if the island is attacked by China, comments that the White House had to clarify the next day.
The president prefaced his remarks by saying he didn’t want a “Cold War with China” but added: “I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back, we are not going to change any of our views.”
A White House spokesperson told Fox News on Friday that Biden “was not announcing any change in our policy.”
“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” the spokesperson said. “We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”