Members of Taiwan’s 564th Armored Brigade pose with their flag after demonstrating their ability to repel an airborne attack near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023.

Members of Taiwan’s 564th Armored Brigade pose with their flag after demonstrating their ability to repel an airborne attack near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

The United States plans to send between 100 and 200 troops to Taiwan, up from about 30 there a year ago, amid rising tensions with China, according to unnamed U.S. officials quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

The deployment of additional troops was planned months before a U.S. fighter shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon on Feb. 4 after it flew over North America, the officials said in a Thursday report by the newspaper.

“We don't have a comment on specific operations, engagements, or training,” Army Lt. Col. Marty Meiners, a Department of Defense spokesman, said of the report in an email Friday to Stars and Stripes.

“I would highlight that our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” he said. “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.”

The extra personnel will train Taiwan forces on U.S. weapons systems and military maneuvers to counter a potential Chinese attack, according to the U.S. officials quoted by the Journal.

Taiwanese troops train near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023.

Taiwanese troops train near Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Jan. 11, 2023. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

“One of the difficult things to determine is what really is objectionable to China,” one of the officials said of the training, according to the newspaper. “We don’t think at the levels that we’re engaged in and are likely to remain engaged in the near future that we are anywhere close to a tipping point for China, but that’s a question that is constantly being evaluated and looked at specifically with every decision involving support to Taiwan.”

The Michigan National Guard is also training Taiwanese troops, including during multinational exercises at Camp Grayling in northern Michigan, the newspaper reported, citing other unnamed sources.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed the presence of U.S. troops on the island in an interview with CNN in October 2021.

Earlier that month, the Journal reported that about two dozen U.S. special operations and support troops and a contingent of Marines were on Taiwan to train local forces.

The boosted U.S. military presence comes amid a Chinese military build-up and regular incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace.

A Chinese effort to reunify Taiwan by force is a possibility that many U.S. defense leaders take seriously, based on regular threats by Chinese President Xi Jinping and stepped-up Chinese military activity around the island in response to an August visit by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

President Joe Biden in September said U.S. troops would defend Taiwan if China invaded and made a similar statement while visiting Japan in May. Walk-backs by his staff, however, suggest a deliberate policy of strategic ambiguity meant to deter conflict by leaving the possibility of U.S. intervention uncertain.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense did not immediately respond to questions sent by text message Friday.

Retired Marine Col. Grant Newsham, a senior researcher with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, said more U.S. troops on Taiwan can have a positive impact.

“It allows the Americans to train more of Taiwan's military - or better said, to train Taiwan's 'trainers' who will in turn share new operating concepts more broadly within the Taiwan armed forces,” he said in an email Friday.

It’s a concern that U.S. officials are still careful not to do things China will find too objectionable, he said.

“It suggests that American support for Taiwan is still handcuffed by fear of the Chinese Communists,” he said.

More U.S. troops on Taiwan enhance the island’s defense and are welcome but the reported increase doesn’t go far enough, Ming-Shih Shen, of Taipei’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research said in an email Friday.

“I think it is not enough, we should increase joint training or allow Taiwan to participate in more multinational joint training,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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