President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN that a small number of U.S. troops are in Taiwan to train with the Taiwanese military, confirming the presence of U.S. troops on the self-governing island that China claims its own.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen in recent weeks as Beijing increases military and political pressure on the island, which it has not ruled out by capturing by force.
"We have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defence capability," Tsai said in an interview with CNN that aired on Thursday.
When asked how many U.S. troops are stationed in Taiwan, she only responded, "not as many as people thought"
The confirmation comes as China ramps up military pressure on Taiwan, including multiple operations by Chinese jets in Taiwan's air defense identification zone.
While various Taiwanese and international news outlets, including Reuters, have previously reported such training with U.S. forces, official confirmation could further exacerbate US-China relations when Beijing is conducting a series of military drills near Taiwan.
When asked about Tsai's remark, Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters that military exchanges between Taiwan and the United States 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 stated.
However, he did note that Tsai did not specify whether U.S. forces are permanently stationed or garrisoned in Taiwan in response to lawmakers' concerns that if they are, it may be used as a pretext for China to attack the island.
"There is no connection between personnel exchanges and the stationing of troops," Chiu explained.
When the U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979, the U.S. removed its permanently stationed military in Taiwan.
Taiwan does, however, deploy its F-16 fighter pilots to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for training.
The U.S., like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, although it is its most important international ally and primary armaments supplier.
Tsai has stated that Taiwan is an independent country and has sworn to safeguard its democracy and freedom on numerous occasions.
In response to rumors of U.S. troops in Taiwan, China's foreign ministry stated earlier this month that the U.S. should end military links and arms shipments to Taiwan to prevent harming bilateral relations.