Soon King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), the outgoing envoy to the US, will take over the National Security Council. Exactly what King, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) alter ego, will do in his new post has been a matter of much concern in Taiwan.
Notwithstanding the speculation in the media that the prime function of the new council head will concern domestic politics, that is to win the seven-in-one elections in November and help Ma extricate himself from deep political woes, King has stated flatly that he “would not touch” domestic elections.
Instead, he said he will devote himself to promoting Taiwan’s participation in two major international economic and trade groups, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Taiwan is excluded from most regional economic and trade organizations. Joining the partnerships is quite important for Taiwan. However, the council’s portfolios are not confined to economic matters; its major functions are to advise Ma on national security — defense and foreign policy, especially Taiwan’s relations with the US, China, Japan and ASEAN.
During Ma’s tenure, the cross-strait relations have improved considerably, but China’s goal of annexing Taiwan remains unchanged, and Beijing has deployed formidable forces, including 1,600 missiles targeted at Taiwan. International observers have repeatedly warned about the serious imbalance of military power in the Taiwan Strait, which poses grave dangers to Taiwan’s security.
In testimony to the US Congress last month, Ambassador David Shear, the Pentagon’s incoming top policy official for Asia, called for Taiwan to increase its defense budget to 3 percent of GDP to complement US support (“US may press Taiwan to boost defense,” Feb. 28, page 1) Shear said that the rapid growth and modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army is aimed at winning high-intensity, short-duration regional conflict primarily focused on Taiwan. The US priority is to assist Taiwan in implementing an asymmetric and innovative defense strategy to deter Chinese aggression.
Sadly, Ma has steadily decreased Taiwan’s defense spending in the past six years. In the 2012 fiscal year Taiwan’s defense budget of US$10.6 billion represented only 2.2 percent of GDP. As King enjoys Ma’s full confidence, he should persuade the president to raise the allocation for defense. Despite vehement objections from Beijing, so far the US continues providing Taiwan with what it needs to enhance defense capabilities.
In a seminar on US arms sales to Taiwan at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush made a thought-provoking point on Taiwan’s defense strategy worthy of close attention. To quote him at some length:
“From the US perspective, its arms sales, whatever their political value for Taiwan, should also contribute to Taiwan’s ability to deter a Mainland attack or the threat of an attack. If we were to decide to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of such an attack, we would need Taiwan to hold on for several weeks while we do all that would be needed to mount that defense.
“So Taiwan needs the capacity to hold on... In this regard, there is growing concern that Taiwan’s past defense strategy, on which its arms requests to the US are based, is no longer appropriate to its threat environment, thus reducing the deterrent effect of the capabilities it has or might have,” he said.