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Taiwan’s president confirms US troops training soldiers on island.

A small number of US forces are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, the country’s president Tsai Ing-wen has said, confirming the presence of American troops on the self-governing islans that China considers its own.

Tensions between Taiwan and China, which has not ruled out taking the island by force, have escalated in recent weeks as Beijing raised military and political pressure.

“We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defence capability,” Ms Tsai told CNN in the interview aired on Thursday.

Asked how many US service members are deployed in Taiwan, she said only that it was “not as many as people thought”.

The confirmation comes as China is sharply increasing military pressure on Taiwan, including repeated missions by Chinese warplanes in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.

While several Taiwanese and international media outlets have previously reported such training with US troops, official confirmation could further aggravate US-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out muscular military exercises near Taiwan.

Frequent interactions

Asked about Ms Tsai’s comment, Taiwan defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters Taiwan-US military interactions were “quite a lot and quite frequent” and had been going on for a long time.

“During these exchanges, any topic can be discussed,” he said.

However, he added that Ms Tsai did not say that US forces are permanently based, or garrisoned, in Taiwan. “There is no connection between personnel exchanges and the stationing of troops,” Mr Chiu said.

The United States withdrew its permanently based forces in Taiwan when it severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979. Taiwan does though send its F-16 pilots to be trained in the United States.

The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international ally and main arms supplier.

Ms Tsai has said Taiwan is an independent country and repeatedly vowed to defend its democracy and freedom.

Asked about reports about US troops in Taiwan, the Chinese foreign ministry said earlier this month that the United States should cease military ties and arms sales to Taiwan to avoid damaging bilateral relations. – Reuters

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