Senate Republicans expressed support for small units of U.S. troops being deployed to Taiwan to train local forces against a potential Chinese invasion of the island, the Washington Examiner reported.
“I think it’s a good thing for us to show support for the folks of Taiwan and to show China that we mean business and hands off Taiwan,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, ranking member on the Armed Services subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Special Operations Command, told the Examiner.
The Wall Street Journal reported that teams of special forces operators and Marines have been in Taiwan for more than a year.
“It has been going on for quite some time,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, told the Examiner after being asked about the training operations.
Neither Ernst nor Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who joins Ernst on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee, could say how long the training operations will continue.
Scott told the Examiner that even a small contingent — such as the two dozen special forces operators reported to be on the island — could help protect Taiwan. China would regard the troops as a precursor to a larger U.S. intervention to fight an invasion.
“I believe it does and I believe it’s important to do it,” Scott said. “Taiwan is an independent democracy, and we should stop being ambiguous and be very clear that we’re going to defend them.”
While avoiding explicitly committing to fight on behalf of Taiwan through the years, the U.S. has maintained friendly unofficial relations with the government in Taipei.
The U.S. also has provided Taiwanese forces with military equipment intended to ward off an assault from Beijing, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.
With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing a new intensity and military sophistication as it steps up its harassment of the island.
China’s People’s Liberation Army flew 56 planes in international airspace off the southwest coast of Taiwan on Monday, setting a new record and capping four days of sustained pressure involving 149 flights.
Scott told the Examiner that the Chinese air force sorties were “pretty disgusting” and a sign of Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping’s ambitions.
“Xi is into world domination,” Scott said. “He already took over Hong Kong, with no guns. And, I think he’s going to do everything he can to intimidate the world and take over Taiwan.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.