Oct 28, 2021 - World

Taiwan leader confirms U.S. troops on island training forces

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's president, speaks during the National Day celebration in Taipei, Taiwan, on Sunday, Oct. 10

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei this month. Photo: I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen told CNN on Thursday that a small number of American troops are on the island for training purposes and she has "faith" the U.S. would defend the democracy against a Chinese military attack.

Why it matters: This is the first time a Taiwanese leader has publicly acknowledged the presence of U.S. troops on the self-governing island since the last U.S. garrison left in 1979, when Washington switched formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

  • U.S. defense officials have publicly aired concerns that China's government will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner as Beijing becomes increasingly aggressive — notably flying a record 145 warplanes into Taipei's air defense identification zone this month.

Of note: Presiden Biden said at a CNN town hall last week that "we have a commitment" to defend Taiwan if it were under attack. The White House later clarified there hadn't been a policy change and the U.S. continued to support Taiwan's self-defense.

Yes, but: Tsai told CNN that if Taiwan was attacked by China's military, she believed that the United States and other allies would come to the island's aid "given the long-term relationship we have with the U.S."

What they're saying: When asked for the precise number of U.S. military personnel on the island, Tsai told CNN that it's "not as many as people thought."

  • "We have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability," she added.
  • Tsai said the threat from Beijing was increasing "every day."
  • Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters Thursday, "We have personnel exchanges and they [U.S. soldiers] would be here for military cooperation, but this is different, according to my definition, from having 'troops stationed' here," per AFP.

The big picture: Taiwan separated from China in 1949 amid the Chinese Civil War and Beijing regards the democratically run island as a breakaway province.

  • Consecutive administrations have purposely maintained a posture of "strategic ambiguity" on the matter of whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese military invasion.
  • A Chinese government spokesperson responded to Biden's town hall comments by saying there's "no room" for compromise over Taiwan.
  • Representatives for the Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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