More Than 600 U.S. Personnel in Taiwan in Past Two Years: Defense Report

More than 600 Americans have visited Taiwan for government-sanctioned "military exchange programs" over the past two years, Taipei's biennial defense white paper revealed on Tuesday.

The United States is the island nation's strongest international backer and, under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, also sells Taipei defensive arms as it continues building up its forces to deter a hostile takeover by the People's Republic of China (PRC).

However, with no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan—officially called the Republic of China—American exchanges of a military nature, while considered an open secret, have remained low key, opaque and mostly confidential, despite the TRA's provisions to supply weapons and services to help Taipei maintain its self-defense capability.

Last month, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen became the first leader in decades to openly confirm the presence of American troops on the island—military instructors who she said were part of "a wide range of cooperation" with the U.S. When asked by CNN for a precise number, Tsai said: "Not as many as people thought."

In its 2021 National Defense Report, the Taiwanese government finally put a figure on the visits, the details of which haven't been confirmed by the Pentagon.

Between September 2019 and August 2021, 618 U.S. personnel visited Taiwan for 107 different programs, the report said. In the same period, 542 Taiwanese visited the U.S. for 175 programs.

In a period largely overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic, the defense white paper said 1,639 members from both countries took part in 102 "alternative exchange programs" via video conferences, teleconferences or the exchange of papers.

"Based on the Taiwan Relations Act and Six Assurances, our two countries have established multiple military exchange channels to promote a variety of defense exchange and cooperation, so as to jointly maintain the security of the Taiwan Strait and the stability in the region," said the report, which was released in Chinese, English and a shorter animated edition.

According to the document, U.S.-Taiwan "military exchange programs" must fall under one of 10 officially defined categories: policy dialogue, management of foreign military sales and commercial sales; armament research and development; defense evaluation; defense professionalism; training and education; intelligence exchange; combat readiness; logistics and maintenance; and communications, command, control and information.

"Moreover, we have begun exchange and cooperation on discussions of the threats from PRC's 'cyber warfare,' 'cognitive warfare,' and 'unrestricted warfare,' etc., to maintain a consistent and smooth communication channel with the U.S., and solidify the security partnership between us," said the report.

Expanding Military Exchanges

This year's white paper also revealed the number of military exchanges Taiwan has had with "friendly countries," nations with which Taipei has no formal diplomatic ties. It said 956 members in 82 programs visited foreign countries in the last two years, while Taiwan hosted 169 foreign personnel in 32 programs, 69 took part in nine alternative programs, for a total of 1,194 personnel and 123 programs.

Taiwan's defense report, titled "Forging a Resilient and New Armed Forces," lays out the Tsai administration's project to bolster and reform the country's fighting forces in the face of an enemy with an overwhelming numerical advantage.

It focused on Taiwan's ongoing struggle to address "gray zone" threats from the PRC that harass and intimidate, but ultimately fall short of war. It also placed a heavy emphasis on the island's asymmetric capabilities—tactics, weapons and equipment that target specific abilities and weaknesses.

UPDATE 11/9/21 10:12 a.m. ET: This article was updated with a new photograph.

Over 600 U.S. Personnel Visit Taiwan
File: U.S Marines from Marine Rotational Force Darwin participate in an urban assault as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre 21 on July 27, 2021, in Townsville, Australia. Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images