Amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, US officials revealed to The Wall Street Journal that a US special operations unit and a contingent of Marines have been operating in Taiwan to train Taipei’s military for at least a year.
The unnamed US officials said there are about two dozen special operations soldiers advising Taiwan’s ground forces, and the Marines are working with the island’s maritime forces for small boat training. A US military official confirmed the report with Politico and said US forces are increasing their efforts in Taiwan.
While the US presence in Taiwan is unofficial, it’s no secret that US troops have been deploying to the island. In June 2020, the US Army released an official video that showed Green Berets training in Taiwan.
In November 2020, Taiwan’s Navy confirmed that a group of US Marines was deployed to the island for military exercises. According to Taiwanese media reports at the time, US troops had deployed to Taiwan for training missions before, but this was the first time such deployments were confirmed by Taipei since the US severed diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. The Pentagon later denied the reports, and then Taiwan walked back its statement on the Marines.
The Journal report comes as the US and Taiwan are hyping up Chinese military flights in an area Taipei claims as its air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Since September 2020, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has been reporting when Chinese warplanes entered the ADIZ, and the highest number of Chinese warplanes entering the space was recorded Monday.
Despite how it’s portrayed in Western media, an ADIZ is not a country’s airspace, and the Chinese warplanes typically pass through the southwest corner of the ADIZ, far from the island of Taiwan. But Beijing understands the media buzz these flights will create, and they are likely meant to send a message to the US and Taiwan.
The US has slammed China’s flights as “provocative,” but they are clearly a reaction to the significant uptick in US military activity in the region. Since 2020, the US has stepped up passages through the Taiwan Strait, maneuvers near Chinese claimed islands, and frequently sends aircraft carriers into the sensitive waters.
Arguably more provocative to China than the US military activity are Washington’s steps to boost diplomatic ties with Taipei. President Biden continued the efforts of the Trump administration to increase informal relations with Taiwan by loosening restrictions on contacts between US and Taiwanese officials. In April, Biden sent an unofficial delegation to the island, followed by a visit from a group of US Senators who arrived in Taiwan aboard a military aircraft.