U.S. Marines Training Taiwan Elite Troops in Guam

A platoon of Taiwan's elite soldiers traveled to Guam to receive a month of combat training with the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), according to a local newspaper report that was acknowledged by Taiwan's top defense official.

Just under 40 members of Taiwan's Republic of China Marine Corps (ROCMC) 99th Marine Brigade were selected to take part in exercises including amphibious and airborne assault, urban warfare and "joint operations" training, led by their American counterparts, Apple Daily reported.

Speaking outside the Taiwanese legislature early on Tuesday, Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said: "We have a long history of exchanges and cooperation with the United States. There is necessary interaction on some levels, and this forms part of the exchanges."

In an attempt to downplay the news, the otherwise guarded Chiu noted his department's acknowledgement of similar training programs in the past, adding: "There's no need for further speculation."

U.S. Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Martin Meiners told Newsweek: "I don't have any comments on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would like to highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People's Republic of China and is in line with our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and our One China policy."

U.S. Marines Train Taiwan Marines In Guam
Taiwan's Republic of China Marine Corps 66th Marine Brigade, known as “Vanguard,” takes part in an amphibious assault exercise on a beach in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on July 15, 2021. Taiwan Military News Agency / Ministry of National Defense

The Apple Daily report said the month-long program is happening under the Luhou—"Marine Roar"—program, established in 1958, while the U.S.-Taiwan mutual defense treaty was still in effect. It was revived in 2017 after having concluded with the end of official diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979. The treaty was superseded by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which doesn't include a defense guarantee.

However, the TRA—supported by then Senator Joe Biden—obligates the U.S. to supply Taiwan with the necessary arms and services to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. There is an additional requirement for the U.S. to maintain its own military capacity "to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan."

According to the Taipei-based newspaper, Luhou is run through the American Institute in Taiwan's Kaohsiung office in the south of the island. The ROCMC, which shares the USMC's Semper Fidelis—"always faithful"—motto, is being led in Guam by officials from Taiwan's Marine Corps Command.

The troops are being taught the latest in USMC combat tactics, while American officials are expected to review and assess their capabilities, Apple Daily said.

Retired USMC Col. Grant Newsham, a former liaison officer to the Japan Self-Defense Forces who has also studied Taiwan's defense setup, noted the need for more substantive military cooperation across the board, such as the House's proposal to invite Taiwan's navy to next year's Rim of the Pacific Exercise—also known as RIMPAC.

Due to Taipei's lack of formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. and other major parties in the region, its armed forces have suffered levels of isolation similar to those experienced by Taiwanese diplomats.

Taiwanese marines are benefiting from interacting with troops from another country, Newsham told Newsweek.

"Think of a baseball team that finally gets to play a game with another team, rather than always playing intrasquad games. You only improve when you play with other teams. You need to keep doing this, of course. Not just a one-time event," he added.

"But the real test is what comes next," Newsham said. The expansion of training exercises in both scope and frequency as well as the mutual exchange of liaison officers will all be important.

In a CNN interview last week, Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, confirmed the presence of U.S. military instructors who are assisting the island's defense preparations.

In a report on Monday, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said the existence of American military advisers in Taiwan has been an open secret known to the Chinese government for decades. Military sources in Beijing told the paper that Tsai's announcement was taken as a "politically motivated attempt to provoke China."

While Tsai became the first Taiwanese leader in the many decades to openly acknowledge the assistance, she wasn't the one who made the initial revelations. In early October, unnamed U.S. officials separately confirmed to The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times that American special forces instructors had been rotating in and out of the island for training duties for a number of years.

There are also Taiwanese officers and air force pilots who are being schooled and trained at American academies along with students from other nations.

While speaking to reporters on Tuesday, defense chief Chiu also disagreed that acknowledging U.S. instructors on the island amounted to poking Beijing in the eye.

"We're not provoking anyone. They leave when the training ends. This is completely different from troops being stationed in Taiwan," he said. "As for how the other party wants to define it, I don't know and don't understand."

Updated 2/11/21 at 11:35 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a comment from the Pentagon.

U.S. Marines Train Taiwan Marines In Guam
Taiwan's Republic of China Marine Corps 66th Marine Brigade, known as “Vanguard,” takes part in an amphibious assault exercise on a beach in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on July 15, 2021. Taiwan Military News Agency / Ministry of National Defense