Pentagon, Taipei Refute Reports of U.S. Marines Training Taiwan Troops

Reports of U.S. Marines helping to train Taiwanese troops this week are "inaccurate," the Pentagon said Wednesday, despite a sitting lawmaker's insistence that American soldiers were "definitely in Taiwan."

Taipei-based United Daily News said members of the U.S. Marine Raiders had been invited to Taiwan for a four-week training session starting Monday, but the island's Ministry of National Defense also refuted the details, saying they were "not true."

The Raiders were reportedly charged with overseeing a group of Taiwanese Marines, who were to be taught techniques including amphibious assault operations and speedboat infiltration, the newspaper said.

This came after Taiwan's Naval Command issued a rare statement Monday in response to local media reports claiming American troops were at the Tsoying Naval Base in the southwestern port city of Kaohsiung.

"In order to maintain regional peace and stability, routine security cooperation and exchanges between the militaries of Taiwan and the United States are proceeding as usual," the Taiwanese Navy's brief statement read.

"Inaccurate" was the descriptor used by Pentagon spokesperson John Supple, according to a report Wednesday by Department of Defense-approved newspaper Stars and Stripes, which received the emailed comments via Indo-Pacific Command.

"The United States remains committed to our One-China Policy," Supple reportedly said, without detailing any ongoing or planned military exchanges with Taiwan's Armed Forces. "U.S. actions are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act and based on an assessment of Taiwan's defense needs, as has been the case for more than 40 years."

"The United States will continue to make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities," the paper quoted him as saying.

In a statement made to media outlets Thursday, Taiwan's defense ministry spokesperson Shih Shun-wen said: "Reports of U.S. Marines training Taiwanese Marines in Taiwan are not true."

"Also, the Navy did not confirm the content of the reports," he added.

But legislator Chao Tien-lin, a member of President Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), added to the confusion today when he told reporters: "The U.S. Marines are definitely in Taiwan. We are carrying out deep military exchanges."

"International relations are an art form," he added. "That this is all very imprecise, I believe, is where the art is."

Military exchanges are not uncommon, Chao had said earlier in response to this week's reports, noting that the relative public nature of the recent exchange was meant as a "warning" to China.

Chao did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment at the time of publication.

Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, appeared equally reserved when quizzed about the presence of U.S. Marines on the island.

"This matter isn't within my remit, so I don't know," Wu told lawmakers at a Foreign and National Defense Committee meeting on Thursday.

According to the country's state-funded Central News Agency, which cited an anonymous military source, American instructors underwent two weeks of quarantine as part of Taiwan's COVID-19 regulations before the training commenced this week.

The Taiwanese Navy's cryptic statement was viewed as the first public acknowledgment of visiting U.S. military personnel in Taiwan in over 40 years since Washington and Taipei formally ended bilateral ties in 1979.

The session, reportedly part of an "annual project," marked the first military exchange between Taiwan and an allied nation since the coronavirus outbreak halted related activities some eight months ago, United Daily News had reported.

The ambiguous nature of official and unofficial statements may have successfully flummoxed Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party's hawkish newspaper Global Times wrote in response to the speculation: "The U.S. military's presence in Taiwan used to be an open secret, and neither side actively gave publicity to related developments.

"But this time, Taiwan announced it in a high-profile way because the DPP wanted to give the impression that it has the U.S. support, no matter who wins the U.S. election."

Tsai's government has received U.S. support from the outgoing Trump administration in the form of increased arms sales and a decidedly anti-China stance.

While some in Taipei remain unsure about the outlook of U.S.-Taiwan relations under President-elect Joe Biden, national security analysts on the island feel the relationship is unlikely to change.

U.S. Marine
File photo: A United States Marine. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images