The much-anticipated Pentagon report released last week on the Chinese military exacerbated global concerns over China’s military buildup, but analysts said that what really worried them was President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait policy, which some described as “walking a tightrope.”
The report, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2010, concludes that the military balance of power in the Taiwan Strait is continuing to shift in China’s favor. It also warned that despite efforts by the Ma administration to increase cross-strait economic and cultural ties, China’s military buildup continues.
Chinese media slammed the report on Beijing’s expanding military capabilities, saying the dossier greatly exaggerated the power of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and that the country was on a “path of peaceful development.”
The Presidential Office declined to offer an immediate response, but later said the nation’s military was keeping a close eye on developments and asked the public not to worry.
Ma has continued to emphasize the importance of resolving cross-strait disputes by peaceful means, saying that is the best solution available and the first priority of his administration.
He also urged Washington to “seriously consider” selling Taiwan F-16C/D fighter aircraft, the third time in less than three weeks he made such an appeal to the US government.
Ma’s call, however, ran counter to his previous position and that of his party, which blocked an arms procurement package in the legislature more than 50 times over a three-year period when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in power.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) also boycotted a referendum initiated by the DPP in 2004 on opposing China’s deployment of missiles against Taiwan.
Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), who has seemed more interested in attacking the DPP in the run-up to November mayoral elections, accused the opposition of spending too much time “talking” about protecting Taiwan’s security while the Ma administration “takes concrete action.”
Lo also said that the military imbalance was a long-term, structural problem that existed when the DPP was in power. He urged the public to compare the strategies and results of the two governments, emphasizing that cross-strait tensions had declined dramatically since Ma took office.
Tung Li-wen (董立文), a professor at the Graduate School of Public Security at Central Police University, said the administration should “walk the walk” if it was serious about protecting Taiwan.
Unfortunately, the defense budget indicated exactly the opposite, he said.
Next year’s budget marks a third consecutive fall in funding and fails to meet Ma’s campaign promise to spend 3 percent of GDP on national defense. It currently stands at 2.6 percent of GDP.
Tung said it was dangerous for the administration to believe that peace has been achieved in the Taiwan Strait and that it could do so without help from the US.
The Pentagon report highlighted the fact that the PLA has not stopped its military buildup in the wake of cross-strait rapprochement, he said.
“It is a vivid reminder for Ma, whose naivety is just as worrying as China’s military expansion,” he said.
Tung said the report carried two messages for Taiwanese: It reminded Taiwan and the US of the prevailing military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait and also showed that China’s military expansion far exceeds its self-defense needs, pointing to its ambition of taking Taiwan by force.
“The question now is how Washington will react to the change in situation,” Tung said.
While China has described its military rise as peaceful, a former National Security Council deputy secretary-general who asked to remain anonymous said that annual reports from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed that China was the world’s No. 1 accumulative recipient of conventional weapons between 2003 and 2008, which did not take into account domestically produced and more advanced armaments.
The Pentagon report also showed that Beijing was ramping up investments in a range of areas, including nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, cyber warfare, space warfare and aircraft carriers. The latter, the former official said, are imperative to Beijing’s strategy of breaking through the “first island chain” and advancing to the second.
Once China builds or obtains aircraft carriers and has the capability to destroy those deployed by the US, the military landscape in Northeast and Southeast Asia will shift dramatically and the military rivalry between the US and China will intensify, she said.
To maintain its status as the world’s No. 1 military power, she said Washington must think strategically about whether to shift its focus to the Asia-Pacific.
“For the next five to 10 years, the US will experience a significant challenge to its global leadership,” she said. “Whether the US and China settle their differences peacefully will have a significant impact on the peace of the whole world.”
From Taiwan’s viewpoint, it was better for the two superpowers to resolve their problems peacefully, she said.
It would also be to Taiwan’s advantage for Taipei and Beijing to work out a peaceful resolution to their political differences, bearing in mind military deterrence provides Taiwan with effective leverage at the negotiation table, she said.
“The US has always wanted to see a strong Taiwan,” she said. “In the face of the cross-strait military imbalance, it is important for the ruling and opposition parties to work together for the good of the nation.”
While there is no doubt that the military balance tilted in China’s favor when the DPP was in power, it is meaningless to play the blame game, she said, adding that the KMT must remember that it was responsible for boycotting the US arms procurement package in the legislature.
Although this is not the first time a Pentagon report delineated the military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait, Edward Chen (陳一新), a professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of American Studies, said Washington was still reluctant to sell Taiwan more advanced weapons because the US Department of State and the White House had political and policy considerations that were markedly different from those of the Department of Defense.
Nor was it hard to understand that Beijing is continuing its military buildup regardless of cross-strait detente, he said, adding that China’s long-term policy was to push Taiwan to the negotiation table without US intervention.
“On the one hand, Beijing cannot be certain that the KMT will remain in power forever, so it must be prepared,” he said. “On the other hand, it does not think Taiwan would be sufficiently appreciative if the missiles were removed.”
Caught between China and the US, Chen said the Ma administration did not have much choice but to adopt a more accommodating approach because such a policy better serves Taiwan’s interest.
“We cannot afford to challenge China. We must engage it,” he said. “At the same time, we want military support and a security promise from the US. The last thing we want to do is offend them both.”
In the past two years, Chen said China had come around to the idea that it must be more flexible in allowing Taiwan more economic space.
“We hope they will be more pliable politically and militarily,” he said. “It may take them a long time, but China must take into consideration the role it wants Taipei to play in future. Do they want to see Taiwan governed by a pro-independence government or people who adhere to the ‘three noes.’”
The “three noes” refer to Ma’s pledge of no discussion of unification with Beijing during his presidency, no pursuit or support of de jure Taiwan independence and no use of military force to resolve the Taiwan issue.
If China prefers to see the KMT in power, Beijing will have to make some concessions and give Taipei more political and military space, Chen said.
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