The US plans to deploy between 100 and 200 troops to Taiwan in the coming months, which could quadruple the US presence on the island, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The move would mark the most significant deployment of US military forces to Taiwan in decades and risks provoking China. The US has sent military trainers to Taiwan since severing diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979, but the deployments were much smaller. The Journal report said the US presence in Taiwan consisted of about 30 troops last year.
The purpose of the deployment would be to train Taiwan’s military on US weapons and to prepare for a future conflict with China. US special operations forces and Marines have been sent to Taiwan for this purpose before, and the US National Guard recently began training Taiwanese troops as well, both in the United States and in Taiwan.
The small US military presence in Taiwan was always an open secret but was never officially confirmed until 2021 when President Tsai Ing-wen became the first Taiwanese leader to acknowledge US troops were on the island since 1979.
Also on Thursday, The South China Morning Post reported that Taiwan is planning to send at least 500 troops to the US for military training, a significantly higher number than Taipei has sent in the past.
A report from Taiwan’s Central News Agency said: “This marks the first time troops at battalion level, typically consisting of around 500 soldiers, will travel to the US for training — rather than platoon (25-60 troops) or company (80-150) level as in the past.”
The reports come after US and Taiwanese officials held talks on diplomatic and security ties in Washington DC. Such talks are usually kept private, but they were publicized to the media. A source told Central News Agency that the public nature of these new military exchanges is intentional.
“Usually, plans like this would remain hush-hush … to prevent drawing the ire of the Chinese communists,” the source said. “But with US-Taiwan relations becoming more solid and US-China rivalry intensifying, sometimes exposure of these activities is done intentionally to show the close cooperation and partnership between the US and Taiwan.”
One US official told the Journal that they were concerned about at what point US military support for Taiwan could provoke China. “One of the difficult things to determine is what really is objectionable to China,” the official said. “We don’t think at the levels that we’re engaged in and are likely to remain engaged in the near future that we are anywhere close to a tipping point for China.”
Chinese officials have explicitly warned in recent years that increasing US support for what they call Taiwanese “independence forces” could lead to war. China demonstrated its seriousness about the issue when it launched its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan last August in response to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visiting the island, which Beijing viewed as a challenge to the one-China policy.
China also launched major military drills in response to President Biden signing the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which had amendments calling for more US-Taiwan military cooperation and included unprecedented military aid for the island. Even though these steps have put more military pressure on Taiwan, the US congressional visits and increased military support show no sign of slowing down.