The US is planning to increase the number of US troops training Taiwanese forces on the self-governing island in the coming months, according to US officials.
It is unclear how many additional US troops will take part in the expanded training efforts.
On Tuesday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told a visiting bipartisan US congressional delegation that the two militaries will cooperate “even more closely” and plan to “bolster military exchanges.”
“Enhanced military and economic ties have been the focal point of conversations with political, business, and military leaders,” a congressional aide to a Democratic member of the delegation told CNN. “The Communist Party of China’s disinformation & influence campaign against Taiwan should also be addressed through deeper cooperation with the United States.”
Even a modest increase in the number of troops in Taiwan could increase tensions with China, which has watched in recent months as the US has strengthened its posture around the island, bolstering forces in nearby Okinawa and Guam. In response, China accused the US of undermining peace and stability in the region.
The friction extends beyond the Indo-Pacific. This week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China may provide Russia with lethal support for its war in Ukraine. China’s foreign ministry fired back that the US and NATO were smearing China.
But Taiwan is arguably the most sensitive flashpoint in the delicate relationship between Beijing and Washington.
In an exclusive interview with CNN in 2021, the Taiwanese president acknowledged that there were US military personnel on the island at the time but said it was “not as many as people thought,” adding that Taipei has a “a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability.”
According to Defense Department data, the US has had between 20 and 40 troops based in Taiwan in recent years. Most are Marines, who are tasked with embassy and diplomatic security at the de facto US embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan. The US does not have an official embassy in Taiwan since it does not recognize the island as an independent nation.
The expansion of training was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Last summer, Taiwanese troops took part in the Northern Strike exercise led by the Michigan National Guard. The annual two-week exercise was conducted in August at Camp Grayling, just days after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the democratically-governed territory, sparking an angry reaction from China, including a military show of force around the island.
How many Taiwanese troops took part in the multi-national exercise is unclear, but Taiwan could participate once again this coming summer. The exercise, which also has a smaller winter phase, has approximately 7,000 annual participants.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder declined to comment on the plans to expand training of Taiwanese forces.
“We don’t have a comment on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would highlight that our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Ryder said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional information.