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The United States is rushing to bolster Taiwan’s defenses against a possible Chinese attack, including by training its troops, Taipei’s top national security official said, in remarks likely to anger Beijing as Xi Jinping prepares for a summit with President Joe Biden prepared.
Washington’s security cooperation with Taiwan covers “all aspects,” said Wellington Koo, secretary general of President Tsai Ing-wen’s National Security Council, in his first briefing with foreign journalists on Tuesday. “They not only discuss it with us, but they take action.”
“[Our] “The relationship on these security issues is so close, but we have to hold back,” Koo said. “All I can say is that they are using every opportunity to help us, be it training or building asymmetric combat capabilities.”
Taipei’s public acknowledgment of urgent aid from Washington and reference to training Taiwanese forces could add tension when Biden meets Xi on Wednesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in San Francisco.
U.S. law requires Washington to help Taipei defend itself against military threats from Beijing, and it has long provided training for individual members of Taiwan’s armed forces, such as F-16 pilots.
Taipei has not yet publicly acknowledged Washington’s expansion of its assistance, including training entire battalions of Taiwanese ground forces in the United States.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to take it by force if Taipei resists unification indefinitely. In recent years, Beijing has launched a growing military intimidation campaign against the country, accusing the United States of interfering in what it sees as a domestic matter.
Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the United States, said last week that the superpowers needed to put aside their differences and “properly address the Taiwan issue.”
But Koo said there was no room for compromise. “The Chinese side will of course not make any concessions [on the Taiwan question]”,” he said. “But the US cannot make concessions to China on this either because it is a core US interest.”
Koo’s rare public comments underscore the importance of U.S. support for Taiwan, especially as the country prepares for presidential elections in January. Some Taiwanese observers have warned that there is a risk that the Biden administration will try to appease Beijing by weakening support for Taipei, or that candidates in next year’s U.S. presidential election will use Taiwan to appeal to China provoke.
“Next year is a year of uncertainty,” Koo said, citing Beijing’s reaction to Taiwan’s presidential election, the Israel-Hamas war, the war in Ukraine and the U.S. election.
He said China would certainly increase pressure if Lai Ching-te, vice president and candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, wins the election in Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party has already denounced Lai as a separatist.
“I don’t think China is ready to take military action against us yet after the election results are announced on January 13,” Koo said. “We haven’t seen them making preparations or having the capacity to do it yet.”
But an escalation of so-called gray zone operations – enemy actions below the war threshold – is “inevitable, including an increase in the level of military intimidation or economic coercion,” he added.
Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang blames Tsai’s government for the deadlock across the Taiwan Strait, but Koo claimed even a KMT election victory would not lead to a solution.
The KMT maintains that Taiwan is part of a broader Chinese nation, but contradicts Beijing’s definition of the state that represents it.
“Perhaps the level of gray zone activity in China will moderate somewhat [in the event of a KMT victory]said Koo. But he added that public opinion would not allow the KMT to accept Beijing’s insistence on unifying Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” formula used for Hong Kong, so “our positions are actually almost the same.”