Taiwan admits US forces are stationed on islands off the coast of China, likely escalating tensions

Taiwan seemingly confirmed that the US has boots on the ground on islands off the coast of China, in what could escalate tensions in the region.

The admission came when Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng was asked about a report saying US Special Forces have been training the Taiwanese military on outlying islands — including one just three miles from China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“This exchange is for mutual observation, to identify problems we have, figure out how to improve, and to recognize their strengths so we can learn from them,” he said, according to the report.

Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng seemingly confirmed that the US has deployed Special Forces to the islands surrounding China. REUTERS

Taiwan needs to be trained by friendly militaries because its own armed forces “may have some blind spots or shortcomings,” he said.

China does not appear to have addressed the remarks.

A Pentagon spokesman told the WSJ he wouldn’t comment on specific operations, but vowed American support for the island nation.

“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” Lt. Col. Marty Meiners said.

It remains unclear how long the Special Forces have been deployed to the islands off the coast of China, but it was previously believed that the US maintained only limited troops on Taiwan itself, as the island nation would send its special forces to the US to train.

American forces are coming to Taiwan to train entire companies, according to Shen Ming-shih, acting deputy CEO of the military think tank INDSR.

“It makes the training more complete, which I think is very meaningful,” he told the Journal.

Conscripts serving their one-year compulsory military service put a tourniquet on a dummy as part of the final trial in their basic training at a military camp in Taichung, Taiwan, on Wednesday. REUTERS

While there, the American Special Forces are teaching Taiwan’s forces how to strengthen its security — focusing on preventing sabotage and enemy infiltration, INDSR expert Su Tzu-yen said.

Analysts say they are likely conducting some of these training exercises on the Kinmen islands, which is 100 miles from Taiwan’s mainland but just three miles from China’s coastal city of Xiamen.

“If you’re bringing in a training element, you want to train where the troops are rather than have to take the entire command and move it somewhere else for political expediency,” explained Drew Thompson, a senior research fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and a former Pentagon official responsible for Chinese relations.

The move to send Special Forces to islands off the coast of China comes amid increased hostilities in the area.

Earlier this month, Taiwan’s coast guard even claimed that four Chinese coast guard boats entered the restricted waters surrounding the Kinmen islands, which are under Taiwan’s control.

It said the Chinese boats stayed just over an hour after Taiwan authorities asked them to leave.

Shiyu or Lion Islet, which is part of Kinmen County, one of Taiwan’s offshore islands, is seen with China’s Xiamen in the background, in Kinmen. REUTERS

China has claimed democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, over the island’s strong objections.

It has stepped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with almost daily incursions into air defense identification zones.

By November, Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly warned President Biden that “Beijing will reunify Taiwan with mainland China but that the timing has not yet been decided,” NBC News reported.

At the time, White House spokesman John Kirby said he would not comment on the details of conversations between the two presidents as they met in San Francisco.

But he noted that Xi “has been public and clear about his desires for reunification.”

He said the US would continue to adhere to its “One China” policy of not recognizing Taiwan as independent and added that “as the president has said, there’s no reason for this to come to blows.”

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