A small number of US armed forces personnel are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in an interview with CNN, confirming the presence of US troops in the nation.
“We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability,” Tsai told CNN in the interview aired yesterday.
Asked how many US service members are deployed in Taiwan, she said only that it was “not as many as people thought.”
Photo: Presidential Office, CNA
The confirmation comes as China is sharply increasing military pressure on Taiwan, including repeated missions by Chinese warplanes in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
Speaking with CNN, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan, which is located fewer than 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from China’s southeastern coast, was a “beacon” of democracy that needed to be defended to uphold faith worldwide in democratic values.
“Here is this island of 23 million people trying hard every day to protect ourselves and protect our democracy and making sure that our people have the kind of freedom they deserve,” she said.
Photo: Daniel Ceng Shou Yi, EPA-EFE
“If we fail, then that means people that believe in these values would doubt whether these are values that they (should) be fighting for.”
Tsai also expressed faith that Washington would help defend against a Chinese attack, days after US President Joe Biden pledged to do so during a CNN town hall event.
The White House, following Biden’s remark, later issued a clarification stating that US policy toward Taiwan remained unchanged.
Photo: Presidential Office, AP
The threat from China was “increasing every day,” Tsai told CNN, adding that her administration had been trying to make the country stronger in all aspects to defend it against increasing Chinese military power.
Efforts to bolster the nation’s defenses have included developing asymmetric warfare capabilities, expediting military reforms and garnering support from the international community, Tsai said.
At the same time, Tsai reiterated her interest in speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), adding that more conversation would be helpful to reduce misunderstandings between the two sides.
“We can sit down and talk about our differences and try to make arrangement[s] so that we will be able to coexist peacefully,” Tsai said.
Separately yesterday, Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said that Taiwan-US military interactions were “quite a lot and quite frequent,” and had been going on for a long time.
However, Tsai did not say that US forces are permanently based in Taiwan, Chiu said.
“There is no connection between personnel exchanges and the stationing of troops,” Chiu told a legislative meeting in Taipei.
Taiwan must be prepared to defend itself and could not entirely depend on other countries to help if China were to launch an attack, he told reporters later after being questioned at the legislature during a session on national defense.
“The country must rely on itself, and if any friends or other groups can help us, then it’s like I said before, we’re happy to have it, but we cannot completely depend on it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Beijing said that it opposes military ties between Taipei and Washington.
“We firmly oppose any form of official exchanges and military contacts between the United States and Taiwan, oppose US interference in China’s internal affairs, and attempts to provoke and stir up trouble,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said.
Chieh Chung (揭仲), an assistant professor at Tamkang University in New Taipei City, said it was unlikely that Beijing was not aware of the presence of US military personnel in Taiwan.
Tsai’s statement was probably intended as a message to Beijing that military exchanges between Taiwan and the US had gone well, Chieh said.
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