TAIPEI, Taiwan – A small number of U.S. forces are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN, confirming the presence of U.S. troops on the autonomous island than China. considers it his own.
Tensions between Taiwan and China, which does not rule out taking the island by force, have intensified in recent weeks as Beijing intensifies military and political pressure.
“We have a wide range of cooperation with the United States aimed at increasing our defense capacity,” Tsai told CNN in the interview broadcast Thursday.
When asked how many US military personnel were deployed in Taiwan, she only replied that it was “not as many as people thought”.
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The confirmation comes as China sharply increases military pressure on Taiwan, including repeated missions by Chinese fighter jets to the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone.
While several Taiwanese and international media, including Reuters, have already reported such training with US troops, official confirmation could further worsen US-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out heavy-duty military exercises near Taiwan.
When asked about Tsai’s comment, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters that Taiwanese-US military interactions were “quite numerous and quite frequent” and had been going on for a long time.
“During these exchanges, any subject can be broached,” he said.
However, he added that Tsai did not say that US forces were permanently based or garrisoned in Taiwan, in response to questions from lawmakers that, if they were, it could be a pretext for China. attack the island.
“There is no connection between the exchange of personnel and the stationing of troops,” Chiu said.
The United States withdrew its forces permanently based in Taiwan when it severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979.
Taiwan, however, sends its F-16 pilots to train in the United States, at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The United States, like most countries, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is its most important international ally and primary arms supplier.
Tsai has declared Taiwan to be an independent country and has repeatedly vowed to defend its democracy and freedom.
Asked about reports of US troops in Taiwan, China’s Foreign Ministry said this month that the United States should cease military relations and arms sales to Taiwan to avoid harming bilateral relations.