Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed that U.S. troops are training the island democracy’s military amid increasing tensions with China.
“We have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability,” Ms. Tsai said in a CNN interview published Thursday in which she confirmed the presence of U.S. troops.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that U.S. Marines and special operations forces have been stationed in Taiwan for at least a year.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, totaling close to $5 billion last year, have been long known.
Ms. Tsai’s public acknowledgment of the U.S. troop presence drew a swift reaction from the Chinese Communist Party, which said the troops marked a significant escalation.
“Regardless of the purpose, the fact that US troops are stationed in Taiwan has crossed the bottom line,” the state-backed Global Times Editorial Board wrote Thursday. “It is one of the most dangerous factors that could trigger a war in the Taiwan Straits.”
Ms. Tsai declined to state how many U.S. troops are present in Taiwan, but said there were “not as many as people thought.”
The Wall Street Journal reported “about two-dozen” were present. Citing Pentagon records, CNN said U.S. troops increased from 10 to 32 between 2018 and 2021 due, in part, to State Department requests for more troops to guard the unofficial U.S. Embassy in Taipei.
Ms. Tsai told CNN that the threats from China are growing “every day,” highlighting the need for the island of 23 million people to bolster its defense capability in the face of increased Chinese saber-rattling.
“We have to expedite our military reforms so that we have the ability to defend ourselves,” she said. “And given the size of Taiwan compared to the size of [China] developing asymmetric capability is the key for us.”
Her comments come as the international community searches for clues on the Biden administration’s posture toward the China-Taiwan standoff. China considers Taiwan a part of its territory.
Last week, President Biden seemingly abandoned the U.S.’ longstanding “strategic ambiguity” in U.S.-Taiwan relations, stating in a CNN town hall that the U.S. would “come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.”
The White House later walked back the comment, but Ms. Tsai said she is confident the U.S. would be a dependable ally if China were to invade the island.
“I do have faith, given the long-term relationship that we have with the U.S., and also the support from the people of the U.S. and Congress,” Ms. Tsai told CNN. “The administration has been very helpful.”