Tsai confirms U.S. troop presence, expresses faith in Biden defense vow

10/28/2021 03:33 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, Oct. 28 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) confirmed for the first time the presence of U.S. military personnel in Taiwan, during an interview with CNN released Thursday.

Tsai said Taiwan had "a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability."

The president also expressed faith that Washington would help defend against a Chinese attack, days after her U.S. counterpart Joe Biden pledged to do so during a CNN town hall event.

The White House later issued a clarification stating that U.S. policy toward Taiwan -- over which China has vowed to exert irredentist claims using force if necessary -- remained unchanged.

International media reported earlier this month that the U.S. had been rotating a small number of U.S. Marines and Special Operations Forces soldiers on the island to train with the Taiwanese military, amid rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Tsai, however, declined to specify how many American service members have been sent to Taiwan, saying the number was "not as many as people thought."

At a legislative meeting Thursday morning, however, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) denied that U.S. troops had been deployed to Taiwan.

Chiu instead described the presence of U.S. military personnel in Taiwan as military training "exchanges" with their Taiwanese counterparts.

Since Tsai took office in 2016, Beijing has ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. Since 2019, it has frequently sent Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft sorties into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

This year alone, 680 PLA aircraft entered Taiwan's ADIZ, including a record number 149 sorties in just four days at the start of October, according to data from Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense.

Tsai told CNN the threat from China was "increasing everyday", adding that her administration had been trying to make the country stronger in all aspects in order to defend it against increasing Chinese military power.

Efforts to bolster the island's defenses have included developing the country's asymmetric warfare capabilities, expediting military reforms, as well as garnering support for Taiwan from the international community, according to Tsai.

At the same time, Tsai reiterated her interest in speaking with China's leader 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 told CNN.

Meanwhile, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Chang Yen-ting (張延廷), who previously served as the branch's deputy commanding general, told CNA Thursday it was not a surprise U.S. military personnel had helped Taiwanese forces in Taiwan, given that the country had acquired 90 percent of its arms from the U.S.

Chieh Chung (揭仲), assistant professor at Tamkang University in New Taipei, echoed Chang's view, saying it was unlikely Beijing was not aware of the presence of U.S. troops in Taiwan.

The president's statement was probably intended as a message to Beijing that military exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. had gone well, Chieh added.

The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), however, said the Tsai administration should work to enhance the military's combat readiness instead of thinking Taiwan can rely on other countries for its security.

In a statement, the KMT also said Tsai should also put more effort into finding ways to mitigate hostility between Taipei and Beijing.

(By Teng Pei-ju and Liu Kuan-ting)

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