WASHINGTON • US special operations forces have been quietly training Taiwanese troops for months, a move which China warned yesterday could cause "serious harm" to relations between Washington and Beijing.
A contingent of about 20 special operations and conventional forces has been conducting the training for less than a year, the Pentagon official, who declined to be identified, told AFP on Thursday, adding that some trainers rotate in and out. The official largely confirmed a Wall Street Journal report which said training has been going on for at least a year, amid China's rising verbal threats against the US' island ally.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.
China reacted angrily to the report yesterday, with the Foreign Ministry warning that the United States should recognise the "high sensitivity" of the Taiwan situation and "serious harm" of its actions.
"The US should... stop arms sales to Taiwan and US-Taiwan military ties, so as not to seriously damage China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing. "China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Taiwan's Defence Ministry declined to comment, saying only that "all military exchanges are carried out in accordance with annual plans". Pentagon spokesman John Supple said that generally speaking, US support for Taiwan's military is gauged on its defence needs.
"Our support for, and defence relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People's Republic of China," Mr Supple said in a statement.
The US supplies weapons to Taiwan, including missiles for defence and fighter jets, in a bid to counter Beijing. Washington also maintains an ambiguous commitment to defend Taiwan.
Meanwhile, a US nuclear submarine was damaged after hitting an unidentified object while operating underwater in Asia, the US Navy said on Thursday.
The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, "struck an object while submerged on the afternoon of Oct 2, while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region," the navy said in a statement. It said there were no life-threatening injuries, but USNI News, a site specialising in navy news, reported that about a dozen sailors were hurt "with moderate to minor injuries".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS