Taiwan’s Defense Ministry and U.S. Defense Department have denied reports of U.S. Marines visiting the island to train Taiwanese forces.

The confirmation would have been the first public acknowledgment in 40-plus years of such a move.

Responding to media reports about the Marines’ presence, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry had on Monday appeared to confirm the move in a short statement on its website.

“In order to maintain regional peace and stability, the military and security cooperation and exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. are proceeding normally,” it said without elaborating.

However, it later released a statement Thursday clarifying that the reports were not true.

“As partners in Regional Security, we have other exchanges,” the ministry said.

Local media had reported Monday that Marine Raiders, the U.S. branch’s special operations force, began training Taiwanese Marines in assault boat and speedboat infiltration operations at the Tsoying Naval Base in the city of Kaohsiung.

A U.S. defense official, speaking early Wednesday on condition of anonymity, also denied this was the case, telling The Japan Times that “there are no U.S. Marines in Taiwan right now.”

Separately, Pentagon spokesman John Supple called the reports about U.S. Marines on Taiwan “inaccurate.”

“The United States remains committed to our One-China Policy based on the three Joint Communiques, Taiwan Relations Act, and Six Assurances,” he said in an email.

Supple said 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,” adding that Washington “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.”

American forces have visited Taiwan to help train the island’s military, including for annual training sessions.

In June, a video posted to the official Facebook group page of the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group appeared to show green berets training with Taiwanese forces, but there was no formal confirmation of that training.

Monday’s reported kickoff of training was the first military exchange between Taiwanese and foreign military forces since the coronavirus pandemic halted such activities some seven to eight months ago, according to local media.

China’s state-run Global Times tabloid also confirmed the news, noting that “the U.S. military’s presence in Taiwan used to be an open secret, and neither side actively gave publicity to related developments.”

The reports come amid growing rancor and competition between China and the U.S. and fears that this could devolve into conflict — with Taiwan caught in the middle.

Beijing views Taiwan as an inherent part of its territory and sees it as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary.

Washington, which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, considers the self-ruled island a key partner and crucial line of defense as the Chinese military continues to punch further into the Western Pacific.

Although it no longer formally recognizes Taiwan, the United States is required by law to provide Taipei with the means to defend itself, according to the Taiwan Relations Act.

In recent months, Chinese bombers, fighters and reconnaissance aircraft have routinely conducted operations in the vicinity of Taiwan, stoking fears of possible preparations for invasion.

Those moves come as the administration of President Donald Trump has announced a tranche of weapons deals with Taiwan, including the sales of advanced drones and powerful missile systems designed to deter any attempt at invading the island.

The Trump administration has been tangling with China over a variety of issues, from trade to technology to security. While much of the security focus has been on Taiwan, the two rivals have also been at odds over the disputed South China Sea.

Washington has targeted Beijing over its assertiveness in the strategic waterway, including the construction of man-made islands, some of which are now home to military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry. The U.S. and Japan fear the outposts could be used to restrict free movement in the area, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year.

The U.S. military has angered Beijing by regularly holding drills and conducting “freedom of navigation operations” close to and over some of the islands China occupies there, including its man-made islets. Self-Defense Force vessels and aircraft have occasionally joined joint exercises in the area.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces confirmed to The Japan Times that B-1B bombers currently based at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam flew over the South China Sea on Saturday and Sunday “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Pacific Air Forces said the flight “was not related to freedom-of-navigation operations but was a routine mission in international airspace and in accordance with international law.”

This article has been updated with clarifying statements from the U.S. Defense Department and Taiwanese Defense Ministry.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.