The US has been secretly maintaining a small contingent of military trainers in Taiwan for at least a year, according to a new report, the latest sign of the rising stakes in US-China rivalry, the Guardian reported.
About two dozen US special forces soldiers and an unspecified number of marines are now training Taiwanese forces, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The trainers were first sent to Taiwan by the administration of former President Donald Trump but their presence had not been reported until now.
The report came as President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday that Taiwan will “do whatever it takes to defend its freedom and democratic way of life”.
“Taiwan does not seek military confrontation,” she told a security forum in Taipei. “It hopes for a peaceful, stable, predictable and mutually beneficial coexistence with its neighbours. But Taiwan will also do whatever it takes to defend its freedom and democratic way of life.”
US troops have not been permanently based on the island since 1979, when Washington established diplomatic relations with China.
Pentagon spokesman John Supple would not comment directly on the report, but noted that “our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat” from China, the Guardian said.
“It is an important step but it’s intended primarily not to be provocative but actually improve the defence capability of Taiwan’s forces,” said Jacob Stokes, a fellow of the Indo-Pacific security programme of the Centre for a New American Security.
“There’s always this balance between symbolism and substance, and I think by doing it quietly it’s meant to be more substance.”