Taiwan hints marines under US military training in Guam

Lawrence Chung, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 03 2021 01:17 PM

Taiwan has sent troops to the US island territory of Guam for training and joint exercises, its defence minister appeared to confirm, days after the admission that the Americans were training its forces on the island.

It has also decided to improve its much-criticised reservist system by toughening training of its reservists to better prepare them for a potential war.

The moves come during ongoing hostility between self-ruled Taiwan and mainland China.

Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng on Tuesday downplayed but did not deny media reports that the island's military had sent 40 marines for training with US troops in Guam, in the western Pacific, as part of a long-running military exchange programme.

"We have had many cooperation and exchange programmes with the United States for many years. Therefore, certain levels of interactions have been going on as part of such exchanges," Chiu said in response to the local news reports.

Reports said that the island's marine corps had sent a platoon of 40 marines to Guam for a month of training in a newly built base as part of a long-running joint exercise programme called Roar of the Marines.

In addition to receiving training in the latest combat tactics and operation methods to strengthen the island's amphibious landing and fighting capabilities, the mission aims to familiarise combat cooperation between US and Taiwanese marines in case there is a cross-strait war, the reports said.

According to Taiwan's Apple Online, Roar of the Marines was a military exchange between Taiwan and the US dating back to 1958, when the two still maintained diplomatic relations.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and the programme was suspended after Beijing warned against any official contact and military exchanges between Taiwan and the US.

Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and vows to bring it into its fold by force if necessary. It has ramped up military pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Viewing Beijing as a major competitor and a serious threat, Washington has in recent years sharply bolstered its substantive ties with Taiwan and has many times committed to help defend the democratic island if needed, prompting an angry Beijing to further step up military intimidation. It sent close to 150 warplanes into Taiwan's air defence identification zone in the first four days of last month.

The tensions have prompted some to regard Taiwan as the flashpoint in the region, with the threat of a war between Taiwan and mainland China potentially dragging in the US and Japan.

Apple reported that the military exchange resumed after then US president Barack Obama signed the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2017, with the American Institute in Taiwan - the US' de facto embassy - setting up an ad hoc office to take care of liaison, communication and execution of the training. It said that the US Marines would send officers to Taiwan to observe major drills.

The training in Guam covered amphibious landing, air assault and urban warfare operations, including practising these in drills with American counterparts, the Apple report said.

Chiu's comments appeared to confirm that Taiwan had for a long time sent officers for training with US forces, after Tsai confirmed the American military's presence on the island in a recent interview.

The Taiwanese military on Tuesday announced its plan to increase call-up frequency for its 260,000 reservists and give them tougher training to prepare them for service.

Beginning next year, local reservists - long viewed as being ill-equipped for call-up because of inadequate preparation and poor morale - will be required to attend military training for two weeks per year instead of five to six days every two years, according to the defence ministry.

Each year, 15,000 reservists who have completed their military service will take part in training focused on firing arms and combat, it said on Tuesday.

Chiu denied that the army had a morale problem, saying the Taiwanese public could have faith in the armed forces.

He also said there were no "strawberry soldiers", after The Wall Street Journal's Asia edition last week described the island's military as "strawberry" troops and reservists, suggesting that they could be crushed easily.

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