Taiwan's President confirms presence of US military trainers on island
A small number of United States troops are present in Taiwan for training purposes, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed. Tsai told CNN that she had "faith" the US military would help defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng also said Thursday the US and Taiwanese forces have long been in contact.
Why does it matter?
- Tsai's comments mark the first time in decades that a Taiwanese President has acknowledged the presence of US troops.
- US-Taiwan proximity has grown under the American administrations of Donald Trump (2017-2021) and Joe Biden (incumbent).
- This is viewed as an affront to China.
- While Taiwan remains self-ruled, China claims the island as its own that must be reunited with the mainland.
'Wide-range cooperation with US'
Asked how many US troops were present in Taiwan, Tsai said "not as many as people thought." "We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability," she said. The Chinese threat is growing "every day," she said, expressing "faith" the US will help defend Taiwan. She called Taiwan a "beacon" of democracy that needed to be protected.
'Only personnel exchanges with US'
Defense Minister Chiu told lawmakers on Thursday, "We have personnel exchanges and they (US soldiers) would be here for military cooperation, but this is different, according to my definition, from having 'troops stationed' here."
Worsening China-Taiwan ties
Relations between Taiwan and China have worsened under the Xi Jinping regime and the 2016 election of Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party. China recently sent a record number of warplanes around Taiwan. State-run media and diplomats also warned of an invasion. Beijing believes Tsai's party wants complete independence. However, Tsai has maintained that it favors the status quo of semi-autonomy.
US will defend Taiwan against China: Biden
At the East Asia summit on Wednesday, US President Biden reportedly said the administration was "deeply concerned by China's coercive and proactive actions... across the Taiwan Strait." China's actions "threaten regional peace and stability," he said, according to AFP. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was present at the summit. Last week, Biden had said the US will defend Taiwan against any Chinese invasion.
White House walks back Biden's remarks
However, a White House spokesperson later appeared to retract Biden's remarks. The spokesperson said, "The president was not announcing any change in our policy and there is no change in our policy." Notably, the US law obligates it to help Taiwan defend itself.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister's Europe visit irks China
Tsai's interview comes ahead of Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu's visit to the Czech Republic and Slovakia this week. Reportedly, he will also travel to Rome and Brussels. China has criticized the visit. A European Union spokesperson told Politico she was aware of the "non-political" visit. "We do engage with Taiwan even in the absence of diplomatic recognition," the spokesperson added.