US military personnel have been covertly operating in Taiwan for at least a year in preparation for an attempted Chinese invasion, but Congress and the American people have not been consulted on the matter and as the prospect of war looms, incredible uncertainty about United States policy has emerged.
A contingent of around 20 special operations and conventional forces has been conducting the training for less than a year, the official, who declined to be identified, told NJTODAY, adding that some of the trainers rotate in and out.
The official largely confirmed a Wall Street Journal report which said the training has been going on for at least a year, amid China’s rising verbal threats against the island ally of the United States.
Around two dozen special forces troops are training soldiers to “shore up the island’s defenses” as the threat of “aggression” from Beijing “mounts”, The Wall Street Journal said. Marines are also “working with local maritime forces on small boat training”.
Pentagon spokesperson John Supple told the paper that while the US does not have any “comments on specific operations, engagements, or training”, troops were dispatched to “highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned”.
Taiwan has also bought “billions of dollars of military hardware” from the US, but experts now believe that “deepening ties between US and Taiwan units” will be more effective than supplying equipment, the Journal added.
With relations between Washington and Beijing already strained, the revelation that US troops have been on the ground preparing for an act of aggression illustrates the “rising stakes in US-China rivalry”, The Guardian said.
Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a multinational deal to prevent Iran from being able to acquire a nuclear weapon, in which France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Russia and China were all partners.
Trump initially cozied up to Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him “my friend” in a tweet and praising his leadership even as China cracked down on massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Edward Price, spokesperson for the United States Department of State, recently said, “our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid. And it contributes, we believe, to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the broader region as well. And so we’ll continue to stand with our friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values, and we’ll continue to deepen our ties with a democratic Taiwan.”
Chinese forces have stepped up their aggressive activities toward Taiwan in the past year, conducting sea assault exercises and flying large sorties of bombers and fighters within Taiwan airspace.
The Economist has previously described Taiwan as “the most dangerous place on Earth” due to its proximity to China, which considers the island a breakaway province.
Shortly after Japanese occupation ended in 1945 and the Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) solidified its control of the mainland, while the Kuomintang government retreated to Taiwan and selected Taipei as the provisional capital of the Republic of China.
Speaking in Taipei this week after Beijing dispatched nearly 150 military planes into its air defense zone, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan is “fully committed” to working with international forces “to prevent armed conflict in the East China, South China Seas and in the Taiwan Strait”.
Tsai, the first female president in Taiwan, said that the country “will do whatever it takes to defend itself” against any Chinese aggression, also writing in an article on Foreign Policy that there would be “catastrophic consequences” if a conflict were to break out between the two nations.
Taiwan is seeking a “peaceful, stable, predictable and mutually beneficial coexistence with its neighbors,” Tsai said. “But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.”
She added that other nations should “understand the value of working with Taiwan” to defend the democratic island and warned that “if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system.”
China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s.
However, Beijing has always maintained that the island should at some point be reclaimed. Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China and has described Tsai’s government as separatists, while refusing to rule out the use of force to bring it back into China’s direct orbit.
Taiwan, meanwhile, has full diplomatic relations with only 14 out of 193 United Nations member states – as well as the Holy See – because China has urged its allies to refuse to recognize its legitimacy as an independent nation. The island also has its own constitution, democratically elected leaders and around 300,000 active troops.
Experts have warned for months that “Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned that Taiwan’s government is moving the island towards a formal declaration of independence”, the BBC said, though Tsai’s government has maintained the position that “Taiwan is already an independent state, making any formal declaration unnecessary”.
But despite the bullish policy towards independence, Chinese incursions have placed Taiwan “on alert”, Al Jazeera said. Premier Su Tseng-chang has described the aggressive Chinese posturing as “over the top” and criticized “repeated violations of regional peace and pressure on Taiwan”.
If a conflict were to break out between the two neighbors it would be “a catastrophe”, reported The Economist. This is first because of “the bloodshed in Taiwan” but also because of the risk of “escalation between two nuclear powers”, namely the US and China.
Beijing massively outguns Taiwan, with estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showing that China spends about 25 times more on its military.
However, Taiwan has a defense pact with the US dating back to the 1954 Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, meaning the US could, in theory, be drawn into the conflict.
“Beijing’s optimistic version of events” after the decision to invade would see “cyber and electronic warfare units target Taiwan’s financial system and key infrastructure, as well as US satellites to reduce notice of impending ballistic missiles”, Bloomberg said.
“Chinese vessels could also harass ships around Taiwan, restricting vital supplies of fuel and food,” the news site continued, while “airstrikes would quickly aim to kill Taiwan’s top political and military leaders, while also immobilizing local defenses”.
This would be followed by “warships and submarines traversing some 130 kilometers [80 miles] across the Taiwan Strait”, before “thousands of paratroopers would appear above Taiwan’s coastlines, looking to penetrate defenses [and] capture strategic buildings”.
“I think there is a mistaken assumption out there that our relationship with the PRC is binary, that either we’re in a period of engagement with the PRC or we’re in a period of confrontation with the PRC. That is fundamentally just not how it works, at least it’s not how it works today,” said State Department spokesperson Edward Price.
“Our relationship with Beijing is one that is dynamic; it is one that is multifaceted; it is one that at its core is defined by stiff competition,” said Price. “And the point of this engagement is to see to it that through dialogue, including at high levels, as took place yesterday between the National Security Adviser and Director Yang – to see to it that we can manage this competition responsibly. That is the dynamic that is with us now; it’s what we expect the dynamic to be going forward.”
“There are – when it comes to our relationship with the PRC, there are areas of competition,” said Price. “And again, most of our engagement with the PRC is predicated on this idea of competition, and in many cases stiff competition. It is a relationship that, in some ways, is adversarial. And our goal, of course, is to minimize these points of friction in the relationship, and part of that is engaging constructively in dialogue with our partners, with the PRC.”
“And there are also areas where there is room for cooperation, and we’ve spoken to some of those areas for cooperation and potential areas for cooperation: working together on climate change, committing to it that we work together, that we work constructively to address the existential challenge of climate change, the existential threat of climate change that poses that very threat not only to the United States but also to the PRC,” said Price. “And it’s especially important that we do so when you have the world’s largest emitter and the world’s second largest emitter coming to the table and taking responsible action and demonstrating leadership, raising that level of ambition, not only for the sake of our own two countries, but also to galvanize action on the part of countries the world over.”
“So we will – and you heard from the White House yesterday there will be an opportunity for the President to engage directly with President Xi in the coming months,” said Price. “This is very much part of that belief that in order to manage the relationship, in order to establish and reinforce those guardrails on the relationship there needs to be dialogue. It doesn’t fundamentally shift the nature of the relationship. It is a relationship that is complex; it is a relationship that is dynamic; it’s a relationship that’s multifaceted. And when it comes to the PRC or any other challenge that we face, we can do multiple things at once.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan would be reliant on “natural defenses” – its rugged coastline and rough sea – with plans in place to “throw a thousand tanks at the beachhead” in the event of a Chinese land invasion that could result in “brutal tank battles” that “help decide the outcome”, according to Forbes.
However, this would be complicated if the US flexed its muscles in what The Economist has called a “test of America’s military might and its diplomatic and political resolve”.
Should the US decide against intervention, “China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia” and “America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it”, the paper added. In other words, “Pax Americana would collapse”.
This means that the US could see its hand forced as “Joe Biden pivots US foreign policy towards a focus on the Indo-Pacific as the main arena for 21st-century superpower competition”, The Guardian said.
US manoeuvres have so far consisted of building up “large amounts of lethal military hardware”, the paper added, with “the steady buildup of troops and equipment and the proliferation of war games” meaning there is “more of a chance of conflict triggered by miscalculation or accident”.
And the primary danger should the US become involved lies in the fact that both Washington and Beijing possess nuclear weapons.
Leaked documents published by The New York Times earlier this year revealed the extent of Washington’s discussions about using nuclear weapons to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the 1950s.
Provided to the paper by Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower behind the 1971 Pentagon Papers, the documents appeared to show an “acceptance by some US military leaders of possible retaliatory nuclear strikes on US bases”, CNN noted, raising the specter of how the nuclear powers would square off in a 21st-century conflict.
Following last month’s signing of Aukus, a historic military pact between the US, UK and Australia, former prime minister Theresa May expressed her concern about the “implications” of the agreement if China were to launch an invasion of Taiwan.
Speaking in the House of Commons, May asked Boris Johnson of “the implications of this pact for the stance that would be taken by the United Kingdom in its response should China attempt to invade Taiwan?”
At the time, Johnson responded by saying that the pact is “not intended to be adversarial towards any other power”, adding: “The UK remains determined to defend international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends across the world, and the strong advice that we would give to the government in Beijing.”
In response to the Chinese jets’ incursions, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told ABC that the country is “very concerned that China is going to launch a war against Taiwan at some point”. And as the broadcaster’s global affairs analyst Stan Grant wrote: “Whether the US fights alongside it will determine Australia’s fate.”
Aukus “is designed to send a clear message to China that the US is not going to surrender dominance in the Indo-Pacific”, Grant added. Australia has “dropped the pretence” of playing both sides by “doubling down on the American alliance”.
All of this seems to suggest that Australia could join the US and Japan, which in July also pledged to defend Taiwan, in mounting a resistance to a Chinese invasion, raising questions over what the UK would do if the call came from Washington or Canberra to join its allies.