By Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Republican Senator John Cornyn has deleted a tweet in which he said wrongly that the United States currently has 30,000 troops stationed in Chinese-claimed Taiwan, a claim that spurred Chinese media to call him a “dotard.”
Cornyn included the statistic late on Monday in a tweet about the numbers of U.S. troops based around the world “today,” including in Afghanistan before the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country, which is now under Taliban control.
The U.S. military did have forces in Taiwan before the United States formally established ties with communist China in 1979. Those troops were removed over time leading up to that, including under diplomatic agreements with Beijing.
The Global Times, a vociferously nationalist Chinese state-controlled tabloid, pounced on the Texas senator’s error as evidence of the irresponsibility of U.S politicians.
“The tweet saying U.S. is stationing ‘30,000 troops’ in China’s Taiwan island could be a jaw-dropping mistake or hype from a ‘dotard’ senator, but it is shocking enough to see how irresponsible American politicians are on crucial issue of Taiwan Straits,” the tabloid said on Twitter.
Cornyn’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin tweeted that Taiwan authorities must explain Cornyn’s remark and added if it is true, China must “immediately launch a war to eliminate and expel U.S. soldiers.”
Cornyn has been an outspoken proponent of boosting U.S. ties with Taiwan and has introduced legislation to establish a partnership between the U.S. National Guard and Taiwan’s defense forces.
Chinese officials consider the status of self-ruled Taiwan, to which nationalist troops fled after losing China’s civil war, one of its most bedrock policy issues, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Taiwan has complained of repeated Chinese military drills in its vicinity in the past two years or so – the latest on Tuesday – part of what it sees as a pressure campaign to force it to accept China’s sovereignty.
The United States, which like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, is committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring the island can defend itself.
For years Washington has stoked Beijing’s ire with arms sales to Taiwan, including exports of drones and coastal missile defenses meant to discourage a Chinese invasion.
The issue is at the center of increasingly fractious U.S.-China relations, with Beijing viewing Washington as colluding with forces in Taiwan that seek formal independence.
Liu Pengyu, spokesman at China’s embassy in Washington, tweeted on Tuesday: “For the past 39 years, the U.S. government has sold $70 billion worth of arms to Taiwan. This goes against its own words ‘gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan.'”
(Reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Richard Pullin)