Taiwan leader confirms small US troop training presence

President Tsai Ing-wen: ‘We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defence capability’

President Tsai Ing-wen has confirmed a small number of US troops are present in Taiwan to help with training, adding she had “faith” that the American military would defend the island in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remarks sparked a strident, albeit familiar, rebuke on Thursday from China which accused the US of trying to “stir up trouble” and that it “firmly opposes” any official or military contacts between Taipei and Washington.

The presence of US troops was first confirmed to AFP and other media by a Pentagon official earlier this month.

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Asked how many US troops were in Taiwan, she replied “not as many as people thought”.

When asked if she was confident that the United States would help defend Taiwan if necessary against China, Tsai replied: “I do have faith.”

“We have personnel exchanges and they (US soldiers) would be here for military cooperation, but this is different, according to my definition, from having ‘troops stationed’ here,” Chiu said.

Authoritarian China regards self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, by force if needed.

China’s ultra-nationalist state-run Global Times newspaper published an editorial on Thursday that said “the fact that US troops are stationed in Taiwan has crossed the bottom line”.

At the East Asia summit, attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Biden said the US was “deeply concerned by China’s coercive and proactive actions… across the Taiwan Strait”.

Biden last week told a televised forum the US was ready to defend Taiwan from any Chinese invasion.

While the US switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, it opposes any forced change to Taiwan’s status. A decades-old act of Congress also obligates the US to help maintain Taiwan’s defensive capabilities.

Tsai has won two elections and regards Taiwan as a de facto sovereign nation.

During the CNN interview, Tsai reiterated her offer of talks with Xi to “reduce misunderstanding” and address the differences in their political systems — something Beijing has so far rebuffed.

Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu is visiting both the Czech Republic and Slovakia this week at the invitation of local politicians, a trip Beijing has criticised. He is due to travel to Rome this weekend.

An EU spokesperson told Politico she was “aware of the visit”, which would be “non-political”.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the reports of a stop in Brussels.

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