The Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet, warned the United States that an “all-out war” would break out if it sent American troops to Taiwan after Senator John Cornyn mistakenly tweeted that there were 30,000 troops stationed on the island.
On Monday, Cornyn compared how many troops were in Afghanistan in recent months to those stationed elsewhere, including 30,000 he said were in Taiwan. People were quick to point out that the number was incorrect and Cornyn deleted the tweet, but Chinese state media accused him of “testing” China with the claim.
“Someone said that Cornyn mistook that number by using the number of previous US troops stationed on Taiwan island before China and the US set up diplomatic relations. I think the senator is not confused, and he wants to test our response. My answer to him is war,” Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, posted on Twitter.
Beijing sees Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and Chinese President Xi Jinping said this summer that reunification was a “historic mission.” Any attempt to make Taiwan independent of China must be “utterly defeated,” according to Xi.
Chinese officials and op-eds in the Global Times have been warning about the potential for armed conflict over the region, a message the outlet reiterated on Tuesday. If Cornyn’s tweet was accurate, which it is not, the Global Times op-ed said China would “destroy” U.S. troops and “realize reunification by force.”
“[If there are U.S. troops in Taiwan] we believe that an all-out war across the Taiwan Straits will break out quickly, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will wipe out the US forces, liberate the island of Taiwan, and settle the Taiwan question once and for all,” the op-ed said.
A June report from the Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center identified 30 active duty military members in Taiwan. That included two people from the Navy, 23 from the Marines and five from the Air Force. That’s vastly fewer people than were mentioned in Cornyn’s tweet.
Newsweek reached out to Cornyn for clarification as to the source of his troop numbers but did not receive a response in time for publication.
It’s possible Cornyn pulled the number from a source that referenced the number of U.S. troops in Taiwan before China and the U.S. established diplomatic relations. The U.S. began helping defend Taiwan in the 1950s, about a decade after Japan returned the island to China. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, put the peak of U.S. troops in Taiwan at 19,000.
The U.S. started pulling troops out of Taiwan in the 1970s and its military presence ended in 1979 when former President Jimmy Carter withdrew from the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty.
A Taiwanese political party also refuted the validity of Cornyn’s now-deleted tweet, saying the last troops left in 1979, but the Global Times “sternly demanded” an “immediate explanation” from the U.S. government. The outlet called the presence of even fewer than 30,000 troops in Taiwan an “extremely serious situation that crosses China’s red line.”