DJ Taiwan Plans to Bulk Up Military Budget to Contend with Chinese Pressure
2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
By Joyu Wang
PINGTUNG, Taiwan -- Taiwan plans to significantly increase military spending in the next five years, according to a draft bill that calls for new outlays on weapons systems that would better equip the island to repel an attack by China.
The proposal, unveiled by Taiwan's cabinet on Thursday, calls for the allocation of the equivalent of about $8.7 billion, over the next five years to fund the acquisition of homegrown precision missiles, high-performance naval ships and weapons systems for existing warships.
The new spending would be on top of Taiwan's annual military-related budget, which is set to grow 4% in 2022 to a record $15.1 billion.
"In the face of severe threats from enemies, our military urgently needs to obtain mature weapons capable of being produced on a large scale," Gen. Chen Huang-rong, deputy head of strategic planning at Taiwan's Defense Ministry, said at a news conference Thursday.
China's ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan a part of its territory. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to take control of the democratically self-ruled island, by force if necessary. China's People's Liberation Army has ramped up its presence and actions around the island over the past year, amid rising nationalist sentiment on the mainland and more concerns about tightening ties between Taipei and Washington.
The PLA air force flew 19 warplanes into Taiwan's air-defense identification zone on Sunday, its largest show of aerial force against the island in more than two months, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of data released by Taiwan's Defense Ministry. The PLA has sent more than 600 aircraft on sorties near Taiwan in the past year, including nearly 450 since January.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Wednesday that recent actions by the PLA weren't aimed at "Taiwanese compatriots," but were instead targeting "external forces and Taiwan independence separatist activities."
Some U.S. and Taiwanese military analysts have criticized the island for spending too little on defense, and for spending money on eye-catching purchases such as F-16 fighter jets rather than less-flashy weapons systems that would better enable Taiwan to wage asymmetric warfare against the PLA's superior strength.
The new five-year spending plan aims to address some of those complaints and to make Taiwan's military more self-sufficient. It places a priority on cultivating domestically developed military technology, including antiship missiles, combat drones, and field and ground-based air-defense systems.
"We're increasing the budget not to provoke wars, but to tell Beijing not to start wars," said Tsai Shih-ying, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Mr. Tsai said the new budget was a demonstration to the U.S. and Japan that Taiwan is determined to defend itself.
Still, he acknowledged the shortfalls in Taiwan's defense spending, given the growing military imbalance with China.
China said in March that it would increase military spending 6.8%, to $208 billion for 2021 -- more than 13 times the size of Taiwan's regular military budget.
The special military budget is expected to win approval in the legislature, where the ruling party commands a majority.
Ma Wen-chun, a lawmaker with the opposition Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, said that while her party supports an increase in military spending, the extra money should be spent on ready-to-use weapons that can meet urgent needs. Some of the items included in the special bill, such as the domestically made Tuo Chiang-class warships, are still under production.
Increasing military spending is politically tricky for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who needs to strike a balance between national security and social welfare, especially with the pandemic weighing on the island's economy, analysts say.
Su Tzu-yun -- a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, a military-backed think tank -- described the special budget as an attempt to increase the island's defenses without cutting into regular spending on nondefense items.
According to the regular budget released last month, Taiwan's air force plans to spend more than $1.7 billion over the next six years to buy long-range precision-strike munitions for its F-16 jets, while setting aside an additional $780 million to develop a drone system.
The budget allocates more than $3.1 billion to purchase 100 Harpoon missiles announced as part of a U.S. arms deal last year, as well as $1.6 billion to upgrade the Taiwanese navy's La Fayette-class frigates.
Taiwan's military has been holding annual live-fire exercises simulating attacks by China's military.
Dozens of military enthusiasts, families and television journalists gathered near a pineapple field in southern Taiwan's Pingtung County early Wednesday to watch fighter jets -- including a locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighter -- take off and land from a provincial highway, a first in the military's history.
President Tsai, who observed the drills, later wrote on social media, using Taiwan's formal name, that the exercises have "shown the confidence of the Republic of China's Air Force to defend our airspace!"
Write to Joyu Wang at [email protected]
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 16, 2021 06:57 ET (10:57 GMT)