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Taiwan Leader Says ‘I Do Have Faith’ US Will Defend Island

FILE - President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the Taipei Guest House, in Taipei, Taiwan, May 20, 2020. (Taiwan presidential office photo)

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said in a CNN interview broadcast Wednesday that she had faith the United States would defend the island in the event China launched a military strike.

"I do have faith" that U.S. forces would help defend Taiwan, Tsai told the network, adding that Washington's commitment includes sending Americans to train Taiwan's military, a program confirmed to AFP by a Pentagon official earlier this month.

"We have a wide range of cooperation with the U.S. aiming at increasing our defense capability," Tsai said.

But she also insisted she hoped that China and Taiwan could "coexist peacefully" despite the current knife-edge atmosphere.

The remarks came as tensions soar in East Asia, where incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's air defense zone have spiked in recent weeks.

The strain has risen to its highest level in decades under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who broke off official communication with Taipei following Tsai's election five years ago and ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure.

Defending democracy

Earlier this month, Tsai stressed that Taiwan would not bow to the pressure by Beijing, describing the island as "standing on democracy's first line of defense."

Self-governed Taiwan's 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Despite the persistent threats and aggression from Beijing, Tsai told CNN she was willing to meet with Xi to "reduce misunderstanding" and address the differences in their political systems.

"We can sit down and talk about our differences and try to make arrangements so that we will be able to coexist peacefully," she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden told a televised forum last week that Washington was ready to defend Taiwan from any Chinese invasion.

The remarks were walked back by the White House, which wants to maintain a strategy of ambiguity on whether it would intervene militarily if China were to attack.