The Pentagon has been sending special operations forces to Taiwan for several years to help the country prepare for a possible Chinese attack.
People familiar with the deployments, which involve rotating special forces for short periods, said the US was training Taiwanese forces partly in connection with the island’s purchase of American arms, such as F-16 fighters.
One person said the rotations had been occurring for at least a decade, and included US marines, army special forces and navy seals. A second person said the move was part of the US effort to help Taiwan bolster its defences as the threat from China increased.
The disclosure, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes amid mounting tensions over Taiwan. China has flown record numbers of warplanes into Taiwan’s “air defence identification zone”.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the deployments, but said US support for Taiwan was commensurate with the threat from China. American administrations are required under the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself.
“The PRC has stepped up efforts to intimidate and pressure Taiwan and other allies and partners, including increasing military activities conducted in the vicinity of Taiwan, East China Sea and South China Sea,” said John Supple, a Pentagon spokesperson.
On Friday, China’s foreign ministry said that when Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it agreed to have only “cultural, business and other non-official relations with Taiwan”.
“The US should know clearly the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue . . . and cut military [links] with Taiwan,” a ministry spokesperson said.
Heino Klinck, a Taiwan and China expert who served as a senior Pentagon Asia official during the Trump administration, said the deployments were “routine and not at all out of the ordinary”.
“The US and Taiwan have a robust and longstanding unofficial military-to-military relationship that includes troops training together, usually under the auspices of a foreign military sales arrangement,” said Klinck.
The Biden administration has repeatedly told Beijing that US relations with Taipei were “rock solid” to warn China of the risks of taking military action against Taiwan. US concerns have mounted as Chinese air and naval military activity has grown increasingly assertive in the region.
Taiwan’s defence minister this week said China would be fully capable of invading the country by 2025, in the first public warning about the possibility of war.
“For decades, Beijing has claimed to be pursuing a peaceful path to resolving the Taiwan question. Clearly, China has not followed through on this pledge,” said Ivan Kanapathy, a China expert at CSIS, a think-tank, who served as a White House Asia official in the Trump administration.
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said the deployments were not a surprise because a social media post showing US special forces training Taiwanese troops had emerged during the Trump era. But she said the disclosure could raise tensions.
“Making this public will compel the Chinese to react, and they will likely do so by stepping up pressure on Taiwan,” said Glaser.
“Given how much they have ratcheted up pressure in the past week, we should worry that they will want to send a stronger signal, and therefore do something more destabilising than simply increase the number of sorties around Taiwan.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing