Panel: Taiwan Defense Spending Doesn't Back Up Taipei's Rhetoric
Undated Photo of Taiwanese troops using U.S. equipment.
Taiwan, faced with a more aggressive China, is talking a good game of ramping up the islandâs security with its own submarines, buying sophisticated fighter aircraft and exploring asymmetric defenses, but President Tsai Ing-wenâs administration has not made the hard choices to raise a defense budget that already is being consumed by higher personnel costs, an expert panel agreed on Wednesday.
âItâs a judgment callâ on how much to spend on security and how to spend it, Ryan Hass, a fellow at the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the John L. Thornton China Center said at the event at the Brookings Institution. But as a percentage of a flat-lined defense budget with an increasing personnel topline, âthis is where the questions of submari nes, F-35s comes upâ for future defense needs are going unmet.
Bonnie Glaser, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added, while âthere continues to be a very close relationshipâ between the United States and Taiwanese militaries, there is a âlack of convergenceâ over basic questions.
Using submarines as an example, she said there is no meeting of the mind in Washington and Taipei over the size, range or mission of a new class of attack boats. She added discussions about revitalizing the submarine force have been going on since the early 2000s.
No U.S. shipyard builds diesel-electric submarines, but under current security arrangements, Washington is involved in these kinds of arms development and buying.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen
Adding to the complications, âitâs not a short timeline [to build a submarine even if th ere were an agreement on how to proceed] and the PRC would knowâ when the vessel was expected to be delivered, Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Thornton Center, said. Further, âin a war situation [in the Taiwan Straits or near Taiwan], I suspect the U.S. Navy would prefer to operate aloneâ to avoid the possibility of firing on one of Taipeiâs subs.
One hopeful sign on Taiwan security comes from a shift of public opinion on the island about how to view China.
While Taiwanâs âpopulation is more aware of and willing to respond to the military threatâ from Beijing, there are lingering questions over their resolve among Americans to defend Taiwan, Shelley Rigger, a political science professor at Davidson College, said. âWe should really be paying closing attention to the resolve issuesâ because âthey are very different from not so long ago.â
Bush said, âOnce we define our relations to Taiwan â¦ letâs act in our own interests.â
As President Tsai Ing-wenâs administration completes its second year in office, Robert Wang, a senior policy advisor at Covington & Burling, said, Chinaâs goal and intention is unchanged as it ratchets up pressure on Taiwan economically â" in information technology where Taipei has a lead and through bomber and fighter flights circling the island. Through its economic clout, China is bearing down on other nations to break diplomatic and trade ties with Taipei.
The policy is: âreunification, forcefully or not.â
The âsofterâ approach to reunification specifically includes enticements to the young to leave Taiwan for higher education and more job opportunities in growing technical fields, Wang and others said. Youth unemployment and a stagnant industrial base are challenges the government is slowly addressing, but do not yield themselves to quick solutions, Rigger said.
To further isolate Taiwan from the world community, party and government leader s in Beijing are blasting almost every move the United States or any nation, international body or business makes toward Taiwan as being âanti-Chineseâ and denying the âOne China policyâ agreed to by Washington and the United Nations.
Taiwanese troops following an undated exercise.
Beijing is insisting, for example, that airlines in advertisements identify the island as âTaiwan, Chinaâ to demonstrate its sovereignty over it and not simply âTaiwan.â
So far, a number of American airlines and other companies are not complying with the demand.
In short, Beijing is trying to erase an independent identity for Taiwan.
âI wonder if there was anything weâd be doing [besides] dance troupes, cultural thingsâ that wouldnât draw out that âyouâre anti-Chineseâ response, he added.
Tsaiâs party in the past has favored a sovereign status for Taiwan in contrast to the KMT Party with its roots on the mainland. Her party also has a strong appeal among the younger population of the island, the very base Beijing is trying to attract.