Defense should be the first priority for Taiwan's government. A strong military is the best means -- and probably the only means -- by which Taiwan can ease tensions, balance the threat posed by China and, thus, create peace.
Everyone wants peace, but not everyone agrees about which country that peace will come from.
The pan-green parties rely on Taiwan for peace. They recognize that a strong military will put Taiwan and China on an equal footing and therefore avert hostilities. They know that the will of the people -- the driving force of representative government -- can't be ignored. This peace results in independence, democracy and the freedom to boldly express and live under these realities without fearing China's reaction.
The pan-blues, however, rely on China for peace. Since China is the source of hostilities, it follows that its promises of security must also be the source of peace. All Taiwan has to do is just say the right words, do the right things and persuade China -- by a show of goodwill and complaisance -- to stop the hostilities. This peace results in obedience to China and eventual surrender.
To be sure, China manufactures an atmosphere of unease so that Taiwanese people and political parties will rely on it as the sole source of peace -- a peace that can be gained only by complying with its demands. Indeed, China has started an arms race, and Taiwan -- with a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) majority in the legislature -- has been participating rather indifferently, if at all. According to the Heritage Foundation, Taiwan spends only 2.4 percent of its GDP on defense, while other countries facing similar threats devote more resources: South Korea spends 4.5 percent, Singapore 5.5 percent and Israel 8.6 percent.
The KMT apparently believes that the unpleasant consequences of losing this game can be best avoided by refusing to play -- as with most frivolous games.
Nevertheless, China can remind Taiwan at any time that it isn't playing frivolous games and can force upon it the consequences and reality of its easily displayed upper hand.
If Taiwanese want genuine peace, it must be created by and achieved through Taiwan alone, through a strong defense. It isn't a gift from China in exchange for Taiwan's desired behavior. Taiwan has a responsibility that has been nonchalantly shirked for too long.
There is no reason to fear losing an arms race; all Taiwan has to do is play the game and enter the race, and it will have already won without firing a shot. After all, the Taiwanese system is capitalist, which relies on the power, efforts, freedom, ambitions and genius of everyday people. It is the best system for realizing the most economic gain. The economy can handle a weapons buildup much more easily than China's economy -- at least until China liberalizes further.
It seems ironic to some that a strong fighting force averts war and creates peace. But more ironic is the fact that Taiwan puts up with China's threats, lives in an existence of relative confusion and places itself in danger of war precisely because it is militarily weak -- and increasingly so every day. A build-up of Taiwan's defenses won't create more hostilities, but rather balance and silence them.
Likewise, a neglect of defense won't appease China or persuade it of Taiwan's good intentions, but rather assure it that unification can be gained -- and without much ado. China sees fit to bully Taiwan without fear only because Taiwan seems easily defeated and has little power to strike back. A strong offensive capability, together with a willingness to use it, will stop China in its tracks. With sufficient stockpiles of weaponry, Taiwan will be free to make counter-threats of its own to protect its way of living, its self-identity and, in general, democracy. If China insists on being a bully, Taiwan will be able to counter China to silence it. China makes threats and military moves only when repercussions are few -- but it won't willingly enter a fray in which it has a lot to lose.