U.S. troops in Taiwan: Biden administration reveals small training group present ‘for at least a year’

Foreign Affairs

A contingent of about two dozen U.S. troops have been conducting training in Taiwan in secret for over a year, the Biden administration revealed publicly for the first time via a Wall Street Journal report.

taiwanese soldiers
Soldiers conduct military exercises in Tainan, Taiwan, on September 14, 2021. Photo by Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto

Days after a weekend of unusual Chinese air force activity in Taiwan’s ADIZ (air defense identification zone), the Biden administration has made a significant public disclosure about military support for Taiwan, via the Wall Street Journal:

A U.S. special-operations unit and a contingent of Marines have been secretly operating in Taiwan to train military forces there, U.S. officials said…About two dozen members of U.S. special-operations and support troops are conducting training for small units of Taiwan’s ground forces, the officials said. The U.S. Marines are working with local maritime forces on small-boat training. The American forces have been operating in Taiwan for at least a year…

The news itself is not exactly a surprise. The presence of U.S. Marines in Taiwan had been reported nearly a year ago in local media, before being denied by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense and the Pentagon. The WSJ notes that the “presence of U.S. special operations forces hasn’t been previously reported.”

  • “It’s an open secret they’ve [the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries] been doing training exercises here and there, but this is a big deal to publicly acknowledge them,” Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University who studies Chinese foreign policy, told the Guardian.
  • “China almost certainly already knew U.S. troops were in Taiwan doing this kind of training and support. But now that they ‘know’ publicly, they have to respond,” Ku added on Twitter.
  • U.S. officials reportedly “believe that deepening ties between U.S. and Taiwan military units is better than simply selling Taiwan military equipment,” according to the WSJ, but the exact reasons for revealing the cooperation publicly are unclear.

Anxiety in Taipei

At least among government officials, if not most ordinary residents, anxiety about Chinese military buildup is rising in Taiwan.

  • “The current situation is really the most dangerous I have seen in my more than 40 years in the military,” said Taiwan’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正 Qiū Guózhèng), yesterday per the Financial Times.
  • “If they want to attack now, they are already capable. But they have to calculate at what cost it would come…From 2025, they will already have lowered the cost and the losses to the lowest possible level,” Chiu added.
  • Chiu’s comments came a day after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) wrote in Foreign Affairs to warn of Beijing’s “increasingly aggressive posture” in the Taiwan Strait.

Probably not helping to reassure Taipei is U.S. President Biden’s second apparent gaffe in two months in which he imprecisely referred to American commitments to Taiwan. In late August, he appeared to “lump Taiwan together with countries to which Washington has explicit defense commitments,” such as South Korea and NATO allies, and this week, he referred to a non-existent “Taiwan agreement,” leading Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry to reach out to Washington for clarification.

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