Her statements angered China.. Taiwan’s president confirms the presence of US forces on the island
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed the presence of a small number of US troops on the island to assist with the military exercises, adding that she had “full confidence” that the US military would defend the country in the event of a Chinese attack.
In an interview with CNN, Tsai described Taiwan as a regional “beacon” of democracy facing a giant authoritarian neighboring country, noting that the Chinese threat is increasing “every day.”
A Pentagon official confirmed earlier this month the presence of US forces, but Tsai’s comments are the first publicly acknowledged by a Taiwanese leader since the departure of the last US military garrison in 1979, when Washington transferred diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
When asked how many US troops are in Taiwan, Tsai replied, “Not the number people think.” “We have extensive cooperation with the United States with the aim of increasing our defense capability,” she added.
Asked if she was confident that the United States would help defend Taiwan if necessary against China, Tsai replied, “I have full confidence” in that.
For his part, Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-ching told reporters – when asked about Tsai’s remarks – that cooperation between Taiwan and the United States is “very much, very frequent.”
But he added that Tsai did not say that US forces are permanently stationed in Taiwan, in response to lawmakers’ questions about whether the presence of these forces is permanent, and thus could become an excuse for China to attack the island.
Tsai Ing-wen’s statements angered Beijing, and in response, she stressed her opposition to military contacts between Washington and Taiwan.
“We firmly oppose any form of official and military contacts between the United States and Taiwan, and oppose the United States’ interference in China’s internal affairs and attempts to stir up trouble,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
“The one-China principle is the political pillar of China-US relations,” Wang stressed. “The United States should not underestimate the strong determination of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
China considers self-governing Taiwan a province of its own, and has vowed to rejoin the island one day, by force if necessary.
Military threats from Beijing have escalated in recent years, exacerbating fears that the island of 23 million people could become a major global area of turmoil.
During a virtual East Asia summit on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden reprimanded Beijing over its moves near Taiwan.
During the summit, which was attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Biden said the United States is “greatly concerned about China’s coercive and preemptive actions… across the Taiwan Strait.”
Biden said last week in a televised forum that the United States was ready to defend Taiwan against any Chinese invasion.
The White House quickly retracted these comments after warnings from China, in continuation of the long-standing US policy called the “strategy of ambiguity” in which Washington helps Taiwan build and strengthen its defenses, without explicitly pledging to provide assistance in the event of an attack.
The United States severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 to recognize Beijing as China’s sole and official representative. But Washington is still Taiwan’s strongest ally and its number one supplier of arms, and the US administration is even obligated by Congress to sell the island weapons to enable it to defend itself.
Tsai has won the elections twice, and considers Taiwan a de facto sovereign state, not part of “one China.” Beijing severed official ties with Taipei and escalated diplomatic, economic and military pressures on Taiwan.
During her interview with CNN, Tsai again offered to hold talks with the Chinese president in order to “minimize misunderstandings” and address differences in their political systems, something Beijing has so far rejected.
Defending Taiwan against China has become a bipartisan issue in Washington, which is rare, and there is growing support for the island in parts of Europe.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu is visiting the Czech Republic and Slovakia this week in response to the invitation of local politicians, a trip that Beijing has criticized. He is scheduled to travel to Rome at the end of this week, amid reports that he is also planning to visit Brussels.
An EU spokeswoman told Politico that she was “aware of the visit” which would be “non-political”, adding, “We are dealing with Taiwan even in the absence of diplomatic recognition.”
The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry refused to comment on reports of the minister’s visit to Brussels.