US special operations forces and marines have been secretly training Taiwanese troops since 2020, risking the ire of China, according to media reports.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, reported on Thursday that about two dozen US service members had been training Taiwan’s ground and maritime forces “for at least a year,” a period during which China has stepped up military activities and political intimidation against the self-ruled island it claims as its own.
Reuters news agency later reported two sources familiar with the issue saying the trainers had been rotating into Taiwan on a temporary basis.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say how long the training had been going on but suggested it started before Joe Biden took office as president in January.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry declined to comment on the Journal report, but told Reuters “all military exchanges are carried out in accordance with annual plans”.
The Pentagon did not confirm or deny the report. Spokesman John Supple said US support for Taiwan’s military is gauged on its defence needs.
“Our support for and defence relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Supple said in a statement.
“We urge Beijing to honour its commitment to the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences.”
The report appeared to confirm Taiwan media articles last November – which cited Taiwan’s Naval Command – that US troops had arrived there to train Taiwan marines and special forces in small-boat and amphibious operations.
Those reports were subsequently denied by US and Taiwanese officials, who emphasised the two sides were involved in bilateral military exchanges and cooperation.
The US maintains an ambiguous commitment to defend Taiwan and supplies it with military equipment and weapons, including missiles and fighter jets. Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island, which is separated from mainland China by a sea channel about 161km (100 miles) wide.
A video released last year and featured in Taiwan media showed US troops taking part in an exercise on the island dubbed “Balance Tamper”.
Chinese forces have stepped up their activities towards Taiwan in the past year, conducting sea assault exercises and flying large sorties of bombers and fighters close to Taiwan airspace.
Taiwan said it tracked a record 56 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone on Monday, in a series of military manoeuvres that began on Friday, China’s National Day, and prompted the island to scramble fighter jets in response.
The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s top China policy-making body, accused Beijing of “seriously damaging the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” with its recent larger incursions.
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price called the Chinese activity “destabilising” and “provocative”.
“We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan,” he said, calling US commitment to the island “rock-solid”.
On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said that he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan.
Asked by a reporter about “China’s provocation over Taiwan”, Biden said on Tuesday that he and Xi had discussed the issue.