President Tsai Ing-wen says she is willing to talk to Chinese President Xi for an arrangement in which Taiwan and mainland China could co-exist peacefully. Photo: AFP / Handout/ Taiwan Presidential Office

Military tensions between mainland China and Taiwan have increased after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed to CNN on Thursday that US troops are on the ground training the self-governing island’s soldiers.

The news came after a recent series of military incidents, including about 150 Chinese fighter jets flying to Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) this month and a US nuclear submarine’s collision with an unknown object in the South China Sea on October 2.

Tsai’s comments attracted strong comments from Chinese state media, which said the US had crossed the mainland’s bottom line and Taiwan’s separatism could trigger a war in the Taiwan Strait.

China’s Foreign Ministry criticized the US for sending “wrong signals” to the Taiwan independence camp and threatening peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Beijing urged the US to earnestly abide by the one-China principle and stipulations in the three joint communiques agreed between the US and China in 1972, 1979 and 1982.

While Chinese and US economic officials held several rounds of talks this month, military tensions in the Taiwan Strait continue to escalate. Before Tsai made a speech in Taipei on October 10, which marks the 110th anniversary of the Republic of China (ROC), the People’s Liberation Army sent the jets to the island’s air defense identification zone.

On October 7, the US Navy reported that 11 officers were injured when the USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, struck the unidentified object.

Beijing expressed serious concern about the incident and urged the US to disclose more information, including whether it had led to nuclear leaks. Citing unnamed experts, the Global Times, a unit of the state mouthpiece People’s Daily, said the USS Connecticut could have collided with a US unmanned underwater vehicle.

Also on October 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that about two dozen members of the US military had been secretly operating in Taiwan to train military forces since last year amid China’s rising threats against the island.

Graphic charting recent mainland Chinese military plane flights over Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Image: AFP

“Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” US defense spokesman John Supple said. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment but said that “all military exchanges are carried out in accordance with annual plans.”

On Thursday, Tsai told CNN’s Will Ripley in an interview that Taiwan faced a rising threat from China but she was willing to have a talk with Chinese President Xi for an arrangement in which Taiwan and mainland China could “co-exist peacefully” as “two countries.”

When Ripley asked if US troops have been on the ground training Taiwanese soldiers, Tsai said, “Well, yes. We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability.”

Citing Pentagon records, Ripley said the official number of US troops deployed in Taiwan had increased from 18 in 2018 to 32 in 2021, including officers to protect the American Institute in Taiwan.

“For whatever reasons, the deployment of US troops in Taiwan has crossed China’s bottom line and is the most dangerous factor that will lead to a war in the Taiwan Strait,” the Global Times said in a commentary on Thursday.

“Although mainland China has not taken any military actions as of today, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has made an extreme misjudgment if it thinks that mainland China will not do so in the future but will allow them to undermine China’s sovereignty.”

The author of the commentary said Tsai and Taiwanese politician Joseph Wu were “drinking poison to quench thirst” as they colluded with foreign powers. He said while they were seeking support and protection from foreign powers, they were walking on a path that mainland China would resolve Taiwan’s problems by force.

“The public mass on the mainland must fully trust our country. Justice is on our side. The advantages to impose military punishments are on our side. The power to decide when to punish the Taiwan independence power and how to resolve Taiwan’s problems is on our side,” said the author.

Taiwan special forces walk behind an armored personnel carrier during an annual military drill. US special operations forces and marines have been secretly training Taiwanese troops. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Thursday that Beijing opposed any diplomatic and military ties between the US and Taiwan.

Wang said the Chinese government also opposed the US intervention in China’s internal affairs. He said Taiwanese separatists always came to no good end while Taiwan independence was a “road of no return” that leads to death.

Wang added that the DPP, led by Tsai, would not be able to change the reality that Taiwan was a part of China and that the one-China principle was recognized by the international community. He said no one and no country should underestimate China’s determination to safeguard its state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Over the past few weeks, verbal fights between Beijing and Washington about Taiwan issues have been escalating.

On October 9, Xi said in his speech about the 110th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution that Taiwan independence was the biggest obstacle for Chinese unification, which was a historical mission that had to be and would be realized. On October 10, Tsai said in her speech that maintaining the status quo that Taiwan and mainland China were separately governed was what the Taiwanese wanted.

At a CNN town hall event on October 22, President Joe Biden said the US would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of an attack by China. He said the US had a “commitment to do that.” After the event, a White House spokesperson said there was no change in the US China policy” while the US would continue to pursue a policy of “strategic ambiguity” in Taiwan issues.

In the first communique announced in 1972, the US formally acknowledged that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China.” In the second one in 1979, the US government declared that it would end formal political relations with the Republic of China while preserving economic and cultural ties.

In the third one in 1982, the PRC and the US reaffirmed the desire of both sides to further strengthen economic, cultural, educational, scientific and technological ties. Since then, China had begun its reform and reopening-up while the US had adopted the policy of ”strategic ambiguity”.

On Monday, three things happened in the US coincidently. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged UN member states to support Taiwan’s participation in the UN system. He said Taiwan had become a democratic success story and the island was critical to the global high-tech economy and a hub of travel, culture and education.

John Oliver, a British-American comedian, discussed the Taiwan matter in a 22-minute talk show. With many jokes and a lot of background information, Oliver explained how the US had pursued the policy of ”strategic ambiguity” and why many Hollywood stars and commercial brands had apologized after calling Taiwan a country.

Then the Wall Street Journal published a report under the heading Does Taiwan’s military stand a chance against China? Few think so, saying that the Taiwanese military was underfunded while young soldiers lacked training.

Taiwanese soldiers wearing face masks to guard against Covid-19 listen to an address by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen during her visit to a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on April 9, 2021. Photo: AFP / Sam Yeh

A Taiwanese male was quoted as saying that he was only sweeping leaves, moving spare tires and pulling weeds during his four months of basic training in the army. The male said he and his cohorts did not want to be called “strawberry soldiers,” a term used in Taiwan to describe young people raised by overprotective parents and who bruise easily. The report concluded that the US should provide more military training to the Taiwanese soldiers.

Chinese state media criticized Blinken and Oliver for their remarks and mocked Taiwan’s military for its “poor preparation and low morale.” Global Times said in an editorial that most of the 180,000 active troops in Taiwan were “strawberry soldiers.”

It said if the DPP authority had the determination to fight until the end, they could “change Taiwan’s military service system by making it mandatory to serve in the military for all men, like Israel.”

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said in his commentary that Taiwan would not be able to defend itself for more than dozens of hours if mainland China launched an attack. Hu said mainland China did not want a battle, which should be the last resort, while the DPP authority did not dare to fight. He expected that the US troops would not join a battle in the Taiwan Strait or they would all die there.

Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Wednesday that there were no “strawberry soldiers” or low morale problem in the army, which should be trusted by the public.

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