Defense exec confirms presence of US Special Forces in Taiwan


The US has had troops in Taiwan training local forces to better defend themselves in case of attack by China, according to a US defense official, an acknowledgment that could challenge Washington’s recent thaw with Beijing.   

The official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal that more than two dozen American service members, including Special Forces, have been in Taiwan for more than a year. Some of the training has been with local maritime forces on small-boat exercises, according to the Journal

While the US has stepped up diplomatic and military support for Taiwan in response to a pressure campaign by Chinese President Xi Jinping, it was unclear whether the deployment was new or related to that effort. The US has played down military interactions with the island since ending its alliance with Taipei and establishing ties with Beijing four decades ago.

The deployment of foreign forces on Taiwan is one of six conditions Chinese military commanders have set for launching a military strike, according to a state media report in April 2020 that cited a retired researcher with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force. Still, the presence of small numbers of US forces on the island wasn’t unprecedented.

“Activities such as this—for training purposes—have been going on for years,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the US. “In the past, these activities have been kept under wraps. If they are now being made public deliberately, that’s new. And it will undoubtedly provoke a reaction from China.”

The confirmation comes a day after the White House announced a virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Xi before the end of the year. The summit plan resulted from six hours of meetings Wednesday between White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Zurich.

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, called on the US to disclose the troops’ location, suggesting that would aid a Chinese attack. “See whether the PLA will launch a targeted air strike to eliminate those US invaders!” he said in a tweet.

China has in recent days ramped up military flights near the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory, more than 140 warplanes into Taiwan’s air-defense-identification zone. At the same time, the US and several allies, including Japan and the UK, have been conducting naval drills in nearby waters.

“The United States has an abiding interest in the peace, security, and stability of the Indo-Pacific—including in the Taiwan Strait,” Pentagon spokesman John Supple said in a statement Thursday. “The United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on both sides.” 

“The actions we’ve seen by China are provocative and potentially destabilizing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday in an interview in Paris with Bloomberg Television. “What I hope is that these actions will cease because there’s always the possibility of miscalculation, of miscommunication, and that’s dangerous.”

Details of the upcoming Biden-Xi meeting, including the date, still need to be worked out. The two men last spoke on September 9 and discussed what the White House described as guardrails to ensure that competition between the two countries doesn’t veer into conflict.

“We continue to believe that leader-level engagement is an important part of our effort to responsibly manage the competition with China—especially given the coalescing of power in Chinese leadership,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. Bloomberg News

Image courtesy of Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg

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