TAIPEI: President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed a small number of US troops are present in Taiwan to help with training, adding she had “faith” that the American military would defend the island in the event of an attack.
The remarks sparked a strident, albeit familiar, rebuke on Thursday from China which accused the US of trying to “stir up trouble” and that it “firmly opposes” any official or military contacts between Taipei and Washington.
In an interview with CNN, Tsai described Taiwan as a regional “beacon” of democracy that is facing down a giant authoritarian neighbour as the threat from Beijing grew “every day”. The presence of US troops was first confirmed to AFP and other media by a Pentagon official earlier this month.
Tsai’s comments are the first time a Taiwanese leader has publicly made such an admission since the last US garrison left in 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
Asked how many US troops were in Taiwan, she replied “not as many as people thought”. “We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defence capability,” she added.
When asked if she was confident that the United States would help defend Taiwan if necessary against China, Tsai replied: “I do have faith.” Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, Taiwan’s defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said US and Taiwanese troops have long had contacts with each other.
“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,” Chiu said. Authoritarian China regards self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, by force if needed.
Beijing’s sabre-rattling has ramped up in recent years, exacerbating fears the island of 23 million people could become a major global flashpoint. China’s ultra-nationalist state-run Global Times newspaper published an editorial on Thursday that said “the fact that US troops are stationed in Taiwan has crossed the bottom line”.
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