The national defense policy of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration needs a major overhaul as its current direction reflects a fundamental paradox, former government officials and academics told a panel yesterday.
“Failing to appropriately address China’s role — whether as a friend or a foe — is one of the fundamental flaws of current defense policy,” York Chen (陳文政), an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies told the forum, organized by the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank.
This year’s annual national defense report, released by the Ministry of National Defense on July 19, lists China as an “enemy state” and highlights the imbalance in the defense budgets and capabilities of the two sides, Chen said.
However, “the question is whether the Ma administration considers China to be an enemy. Do those active and former government officials who constantly visit China see it as an enemy?” Chen asked.
That demonstrates the very different mindset between military and civilian leadership, Chen said.
The other significant flaw lies in contradictory policy relating to military personnel and armaments, he said.
Although Ma has promised to implement an all-volunteer program, national finances cannot support such a program, Chen said, adding that Ma has yet to explain how he plans to recruit sufficient volunteers in light of the declining birthrate.
The Ma administration has been reluctant both in terms of its efforts to acquire arms from the US and to develop a domestic arms industry, he said.
Facing a rising China, Taiwan should develop “asymmetric warfare” capabilities with a focus on developing indigenous weapons, such as smaller submarines under 500 tonnes, short and mid-range land-based missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, attack helicopters and missile boats, former minister of national defense Michael Tsai (蔡明憲) said.
Taiwan should also align itself with allies — predominantly the US and Japan — to ensure regional stability in the Asia-Pacific and the Taiwan Strait and to neutralize China’s military expansion, Tsai said.
On the recent dispute in the South China Sea, Tsai said Taiwan should consult with Japan and the US respectively or submit a statement at APEC or ASEAN summits that it plans to approach the issue in accordance with international law.
Time is on Taiwan’s side for military reform, as there is no imminent threat of China launching an attack, given its internal economic and social issues, said Chang Kuo-cheng (張國城), a senior councilor at Taiwan Thinktank.
“There is no need to be pessimistic about Taiwan’s national defense,” he said.
However, Taiwan can afford be more aggressive on the South China Sea, as it already controls Taiping Island (太平島), the largest island in the area, he said.
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