House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t confirmed if, or when, she will visit Taiwan, but rumors of her potential trip to the self-governing island have been enough to stir tensions between the U.S. and China, with the latter accusing Washington of a provocation and a promise to respond with “strong countermeasures.”
While the U.S. has warned China against turning a potential visit of Pelosi to the island into an unnecessary crisis (as Washington says that the House Speaker’s trip does not challenge Taiwan’s status quo) Beijing has not backed down.
Taiwanese media reported that a Chinese missile destroyer appeared off the coast of Lanyu, Orchard Island, on Tuesday.
With the current dispute fueling tensions in the South China Sea, already high in a region where Beijing’s sovereignty claims are disputed by several countries (including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam), Newsweek looks at how the U.S. and Chinese military presences in this region compare.
The U.S. has an unofficial military presence in Taiwan, which has increased over the past two years as concerns grew over China seemingly moving to annex the self-governing island.
As of December 31, 2020, the U.S. had a military presence in Taiwan of only 20 personnel, now increased to 30, wrote Voice of America (VOA).
According to the Pentagon‘s Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), three of these 30 military personnel are from the Army, two from the Navy, 20 are Marine Corps, five are from the Air Force/Space Force.
Their presence was confirmed in October 2021 by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, though neither the U.S. nor the Taiwanese authorities confirmed at the time what the U.S. personnel was doing on the island, but the troops are believed to be there for training purposes.
The U.S. has its largest military presence outside of the country in Japan, with over 55,000 troops stationed in the East Asian nation, according to the DMDC.
The U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ), with its Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force elements, also employs 45,000 dependents, 8,000 Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and contractor employees and 25,000 Japanese workers on top of 54,000 troops.
U.S. forces are stationed in Japan pursuant to the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security of 1960.
US: South Korea
The U.S. has over 25,000 troops stationed in South Korea, a remnant of the 1950s Korean War that ended in an armistice between South and North Korea.
These troops—the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK)—represents the U.S. third-largest military presence outside of its own borders after Japan and Germany.
The 25,687 between Army soldiers (17,190), airmen and women (7,941), navy sailors (337), marines (257) and coast guards (one) operates some 90 combat planes, 40 attack helicopters, 50 tanks and 60 Patriot missile launchers, according to Reuters.
China: South China Sea
Beijing is said to be in the process of modernizing its military and expanding its presence in the South China Sea, having fully militarized at least three of several artificially built islands in the region in the last year.
These bases in the Spratly Islands archipelago are armed with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles as well as fighter aircraft, laser and jamming equipment, as Admiral John Aquilino told the Associated Press (AP).
This year, reports of Beijing secretly building a naval base in Cambodia for military uses have been widely covered by news media including the Washington Post, but have been strongly denied by both China and Cambodia.
What Is On The Table For A Potential Pelosi’s Visit?
In case of Pelosi visiting Taiwan, U.S. officials told AP that the military has a contingency plan, including increasing its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region.
Though officials did not give any details of what this plan is, they said that fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to protect the House Speaker while visiting Taiwan.
On the other hand, it’s unclear how China will react to a potential Pelosi visit to Taiwan, as it has not described exactly what its “strong countermeasures” would be.
In the process of modernizing its army, a goal Beijing aims to achieve by 2035, China has significantly expanded its military spending in recent years, funding the development and improvement of its navy and the growth of its arsenal.
With more than two million active personnel—including over 915,000 active-duty troops according to the latest Pentagon China Military Power Report—China has currently the largest fighting force in the world.
China’s army has been stocking high-tech weapons in its arsenals in the past few years, including the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile revealed at the 2019 National Day military parade. This year, it was rumored that Beijing was testing hypersonic weapons.
The country also claims to have the largest navy in the world—but not the most powerful. China’s military vessels, though more numerous than those of the U.S., are much smaller than the American warships.
The U.S. can rely on 11 aircraft carriers against China’s three, and the country also counts more nuclear-powered submarines, cruisers and destroyers than China.
While it’s impossible to know whether China could move against Taiwan any time soon, concerns over the country’s military capacity and its aggressive stance against the territory it claims as its own has grown significantly in recent years, and are unlikely to disappear any time soon.