A new report claims Washington will soon replace its civilian defense experts on Taiwan with active-duty army personnel. The move would likely upset Chinese officials, who are sensitive to any foreign dealings with Taiwan.
The report by Jane's Defense Weekly says the United States will break a 25-year precedent and station army officers in Taipei starting in mid-2005.
Washington severed its diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 and moved its embassy to Beijing. Since then, the U.S. government has been represented in Taipei by a mission known as the American Institute in Taiwan, which is staffed by former diplomats, while civilian contractors have been used to liaise with Taiwan's military.
The authoritative magazine says a bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002 allows for the posting of military personnel to Taiwan if it is deemed to be "in the national interest of the United States."
The magazine says the new policy, which would likely strengthen U.S. military ties with Taiwan, reflects growing concern in Washington over China's military ambitions in the region.
There has been no official Chinese response to the story, but political analysts here in Asia say the switch to a direct U.S. military presence on Taiwan would almost certainly upset Beijing.
"Of course any sign like this makes Beijing worry about the establishment of some kind of military alliance between Taiwan and the United States," said Philip Yang, a political scientist at Taiwan University in Taipei.
The Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 after its defeat by the Communist Party, and the island has been self-governed ever since. Beijing claims Taiwan as a part of China, and has threatened to invade the island if it declares formal independence.
The United States remains one of Taiwan's key allies and the leading source of its military hardware. It is also obliged by law to come to Taiwan's defense if it is attacked.
The Bush Administration has walked a careful line between Beijing and Taipei, warning both against unilaterally changing the status quo.
Mr. Yang says it is unlikely the United States is trying to provoke a confrontation with Beijing. He says the new military representative's duties will probably include reviving a long-stalled deal for Taipei to purchase $18 billion worth of weaponry from Washington.
"Definitely his first assignment would be collecting or explaining the U.S. concern and U.S. attitude in terms of the arms sales," added Mr. Yang.
U.S. officials in Washington and Taiwan said they had no immediate comment on the report.