With China More Assertive, Taiwan Mulls Bigger Defense Budget
By Ralph Jennings September 04, 2021
Taiwan's Cabinet is proposing to increase the military budget next year to develop and buy modern hardware as Chinese ships and aircraft continue to encroach on the island's waters and airspace, keeping alive fears of a strike.
Taiwan legislators have begun evaluating the Cabinet's request to spend $17.07 billion next year for equipment such as fighter planes, guided missiles and drones. Of that total, $1.45 billion is for special purposes including fighter jets and $2.13 billion is for unspecified expenses.
The ruling party-dominated parliament, or Legislative Yuan, is expected to review and approve the budget by year's end.
Military budget hikes are nothing new for Taiwan; this one would be a 5.6% increase over the 2021 allocation and come to the usual 2.3% of gross domestic product. The new budget is in response to a surge in Chinese activity in or near the Taiwanese air defense identification zone since mid-2020.
Chinese military planes passed through a corner of Taiwan's zone Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week beginning Aug. 29, for example, the National Defense Ministry said through a social media channel. Four flew on Friday and in the past as many as 28 planes have traveled the same path in a single day.
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party retreated to the island after losing the mainland to Mao Zedong's communists. China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has not renounced the use of force to capture it.
About 80% of Taiwanese have told government opinion surveys since 2019 they oppose unifying with China and today's Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen, takes a guarded view of any engagement with Beijing.
"The positive aspect is that there's an increase in [the] budget of spending in defense," said Sean Su, an independent political analyst in Taiwan.
"On the downside," he said, "the question of whether it's enough or not is one which no one can truly answer unless there's an actual war."
If Taiwan's parliament, accepts the budget as submitted on Tuesday, the air force will spend some of the money through 2025 on four U.S.-designed Sea Guardian drones that can increase its day-night surveillance capability, and to equip its existing F-16s with precision missiles, Taiwan's government-funded Central News Agency said.
The new hardware would fit into Taiwan's development of asymmetric warfare, Su said. The term means fending off a more powerful enemy through unconventional tactics or weapons. China has the world's third-strongest armed forces, according to the database GlobalFirePower.com. The database ranks Taiwan No. 22.
Some Chinese planes fly over Taiwan's zone in a formation that would enable an attack from the front, rear and both sides. Its movements are raising fears among Taiwanese of an eventual strike.
Last September, China held a live-fire naval exercise in the strait that divides its mainland from Taiwan and its first aircraft carrier has passed through the same waterway.
Taiwan will need more U.S.-made F-16s, particularly advanced Viper models, and smart bombs, said Chen Yi-fan, assistant professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in Taiwan. It must follow up the acquisitions with recruitment and training, he added.
"Without sufficient manpower and qualified training, these advanced weapons cannot operate by themselves," Chen said.
Taiwan-based defense contractors are also developing new lines of military planes and a submarine.
Taiwan's proposed defense budget is "vital to safeguarding national security," the Central News Agency said, quoting National Defense Ministry spokesperson Shih Shun-wen. China's ability to "paralyze Taiwan's air defense, sea control, and counter-warfare systems poses a huge threat to the country's military," the news agency added, citing the ministry.
The ministry may privately worry that China is preparing to strike, said Alexander Huang, chairman of a military strategy research foundation in Taipei.
"We don't know whether the increased budget is for inventory or is based on an assessment that the possible conflict is not too far away," Huang said.
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