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Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen acknowledged for the first time the presence of U.S. military personnel on the island, during an interview with CNN, at a time when relations between the self-governed island and Beijing are at their worst in the last 40 years.
"These are U.S. Marine Corps special operations units whose mission is to train Taiwanese military forces in anticipation of a possible conflict with China," she said.
"We cooperate extensively with the United States to increase our defensive capabilities," the president told CNN on October 28. While not revealing the exact number of U.S. military personnel on the island, she assured that "there are not as many as people think."
The Taiwanese government's first official confirmation of the U.S. military presence coincides with recent statements by U.S. President Joe Biden, in which he assured that his country is ready to defend Taiwan in case of aggression from mainland China against the self-governed region.
Later, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed that the policy of strategic ambiguity remains in force, according to which the U.S. continues to recognize Beijing as the only legitimate government of China, but at the same time maintains the right to maintain special relations with the island.
In early October, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng stressed that the island's tensions with mainland China were at their worst, adding that there was a risk of escalation. Hours earlier, China had sent a record number of military aircraft to Taiwan's defense zone.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen confirms a small number of US troops are present in Taiwan to help with training amid raised tensions with China pic.twitter.com/NWsZWcI0yY
For its part, China opposes the presence of U.S. soldiers as well as "any form of official exchanges and military contacts" between the two partners, according to Chinese foreign spokesman Wang Wenbin.
Beijing considers the island part of its territory, although since 1949 Taiwan has been self-governing with its own administration after Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, defeated during the Chinese civil war, took refuge on the island and proclaimed the Republic of China.
After the unification of the country in the 1980s, then-President of the People's Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping, adopted the policy of one country, two systems, according to which two political and economic models coexist: that of mainland China and that of Taiwan. Nonetheless, Beijing has not given up on complete reunification while Tsai's government argues that the choice of Taiwan's future is up to its citizens.