China on Thursday said it “firmly” opposes military links between Taiwan and the US after it emerged that American troops were training soldiers on the self-governing island, which Beijing says is a breakaway region.

A small number of US forces are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN earlier on Thursday, confirming the presence of American troops on the island.

The sharp response from the Chinese foreign ministry came as state media reported that fighter jets, special mission aircraft and attack and transport helicopters of the People’s Liberation Army  conducted a drill near Taiwan earlier this week.

Tension between Taiwan and China, which has not ruled out taking the island by force, has been high in recent weeks as Beijing continues to raise military and political pressure on the island, alleging an entente between Taipei and Washington.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said when asked about Tsai’s comments on Thursday, “We firmly oppose any form of official exchanges and military contacts between the United States and Taiwan, oppose US interference in China’s internal affairs, and attempts to provoke and stir up trouble”.

He  said ,“The US should not underestimate the strong determination of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,”.

Tan said China will take resolute countermeasures if the US continues to play the “Taiwan card” and send wrong signals to separatist forces seeking “Taiwan independence”.

Separately, Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s defence ministry also criticised the US for attempting to elevate military contacts with Taiwan in a “sausage cutting” way.

Chiu added that Tsai did not say that US forces are permanently based, or garrisoned, in Taiwan, in response to lawmaker questions that if they were then this could be a pretext for China to attack the island.

Asked about President 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.

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