Taiwan has proposed increasing defence spending to record levels next year amid signals from Beijing that there will be no compromise in its sovereignty claim over the island.
The announcement of a planned 10 per cent increase in the defence budget to NT$453.4 billion (US$15.4 billion) next year coincided with a call by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to reinforce security ties with the United States.
In a virtual address to the Washington-based Hudson Institute on Wednesday, Tsai said the top priority for her second term was to strengthen the island’s military defences, including seeking a “constructive security relationship” with the US.
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“Our 23 million people have the right to determine our own futures, which is [the] antithesis to the position Beijing has taken,” she said.
“Upholding these principles requires us to be able to defend Taiwan against coercive actions. It entails backing up words with actions.”
The defence budget proposed by Tsai’s cabinet on Thursday would increase military spending to 2.4 per cent of the island’s GDP and require legislative approval.
In her speech, Tsai left the door open for Taipei and Beijing to improve cross-strait relations, acknowledging the island’s strong cultural and historical ties with mainland China.
“We will never stop believing that there can be a better future ahead where both sides can share in each other’s successes and accomplishments,” Tsai said.
But she also said that “both sides should not deny each other’s existence” and that Beijing needed to accept the reality that Taiwan was a developed democracy.
Beijing has repeatedly shunned such overtures from Taipei since Tsai took power in 2016, stressing that while it sought peaceful reunification with the island, it would not give up the use of force if necessary.
Underlining that message, Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui, spokesman of the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said the mainland military staged a series of drills in the Taiwan Strait to send a “serious warning” to supporters of independence for the self-ruled island.
“Recently, some major powers have persisted in a negative trend on the Taiwan issue, sending a serious and negative signal to those Taiwanese independence forces and seriously threatening the safety and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” Zhang said.
“The patrols and exercises by the command’s forces were a response to the security situation of the Taiwan Strait and a necessary measure to safeguard national sovereignty.”
The announcement of the latest sabre-rattling by the PLA followed a visit to the island this week by US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the most senior US official to visit Taiwan in decades.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times , a nationalistic tabloid under People’s Daily , said the exercises showed that the PLA was “fully capable” of recapturing Taiwan before the US could react.
“Today, [we] conducted drills at the north and south ends of Taiwan Strait,” Hu wrote online. “If Taiwan continues to drift further away tomorrow, then it will be war games at both ends of the Taiwan Strait and on Taiwan’s east coast.
“Then the next step will be PLA fighter jets flying over Taiwan island.”
At the Hudson event, Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s new representative to the US, also said Taiwan was working with the US to acquire military hardware, including underwater sea mines and cruise missiles for coastal defence.
Hsiao highlighted the need for Taiwan’s military to have “asymmetric capabilities” that were “cost effective, but lethal enough to become deterrence, to make any consideration of an invasion very painful”.
Yang Lixian, a research fellow at the Research Centre on Cross-Strait Relations in Beijing, said the exercises were a clear warning to the United States over its support to Taiwan, and to “Taiwanese independence” forces.
“The US clearly wants to provoke us in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea – they clearly want to take action, action that is as big as possible,” Yang said.
“China doesn’t want war, but we have our bottom lines, and if they cross our bottom lines, then we have no other choice. We will be as restrained as possible, so it depends on the US.”
She said Beijing understood that the administration of US President Donald Trump was taking measures against China ahead of the US election to shift the country’s domestic focus, but that China would not easily “fall for this”.
Liu Guoshen, director of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, said peaceful reunification remained Beijing’s preferred option but retaking Taiwan by force had always been on the table.
“Peaceful reunification and non-peaceful means are always two parallel options for Beijing,” Liu said.
Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Taipei’s Tamkang University, said the continued stalemate across the Taiwan Strait was not in the interest of either side.
Huang, a former deputy minister with Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said it was only natural that Taiwan wanted a closer relationship with the US given that Beijing had stopped official communication with Taipei.
“But if cross-strait communications continue to stall, it will lead to more twisted and abnormal relations between the US, China and Taiwan. In the long run, this does not serve the interest of either side of the Taiwan Strait,” Huang said.
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This article Taiwan unveils record defence budget as Beijing stands firm on claim to island first appeared on South China Morning Post