The U.S. is more than quadrupling the number of troops deployed to Taiwan, the island nation hotly contested by China, just as tensions with China are reaching new highs.
U.S. officials said that between 100 and 200 troops are planned to deploy to Taiwan in coming months, after only about 30 were deployed there a year ago, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The troops will serve to expand a secretive program that is training Taiwanese forces on U.S. weapons systems and military maneuvers, with an eye toward defending against an attack from China, officials said.
A contingent of Taiwanese forces is reportedly also being trained by the Michigan National Guard. They have trained at northern Michigan’s Camp Grayling during annual exercises with multiple countries, people familiar with the training told the Journal.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 in a civil war that never officially ended. Since then, China’s openly stated goal of reabsorbing the democratic and capitalist island has grown into one of the world’s most sensitive geopolitical flashpoints.
READ MORE: When might China invade Taiwan? Depends who you ask
Defense Department data shows that recent years have seen slight fluctuations in the number of U.S. troops on Taiwan, the Journal reported. The new surge has been planned for months, officials said, well ahead of the closely-watched flight of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. earlier this month.
The spectacle of the balloon, which China insists was a weather balloon blown off course, soured already-tense relations between the superpowers. The incident prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone an upcoming trip to Beijing, where he planned to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
As to whether China will see the new Taiwan deployments as a provocation, a U.S. official said it is difficult to determine “what is really objectionable to China.”
READ MORE: Taiwan officials to meet Biden admin in Washington: Report
“We don’t think, at the levels that we’re engaged in and are likely to remain engaged in the near future, that we are anywhere close to a tipping point for China, but that’s a question that is constantly being evaluated and looked at specifically with every decision involving support to Taiwan,” the official said.
In a public address last week on the spy balloon, Biden said, “We seek competition, not conflict, with China. We’re not looking for a new Cold War.”
This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.