Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director William Stanton’s recent comment that Taiwan’s declining military budgets have left it vulnerable to Chinese attack and made it easier for Chinese spies to penetrate its armed forces were “not entirely objective,” the Ministry of National Defense said.
Stanton’s comments constituted an unusually hard-hitting critique of Taiwan’s national security posture and stood in sharp contrast to repeated assertions of US support for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) five-year program of seeking to lower tensions with China.
Responding to Stanton’s charges, the ministry on Monday said that between 2003 and 2008, unspecified “political reasons” led to cuts in the duration of military service, “which impacted negatively on the quality of military exercises and on force preparedness.”
However, it did not elaborate on the statement.
The ministry also said that it regretted that defense spending was unable to exceed 3 percent of GDP, but said that despite budgetary difficulties, it had made “appropriate” expenditures on transitioning to an all-volunteer force and “meeting other major defense needs.”
Since 1994, the nation’s defense expenditures have steadily declined. Last year, they constituted 2.2 percent of GDP, far below the 3 percent target Ma fixed when he came into office in 2008.
One of Stanton’s sharpest criticisms was reserved for a possible link between declining Taiwanese military morale and the upsurge in Chinese espionage penetration of Taiwan’s armed forces.
Citing press sources, Stanton said there had been at least nine such cases of espionage between 2004 and 2011, and that many had targeted “Taiwan’s command and control and communication systems and US weapons systems sold to Taiwan.”
“These cases have been harmful not only because of the potential loss of unknown quantities of classified information, but also because their success and frequency serves to undermine US confidence in security cooperation with Taiwan,” Stanton said.
His charge constitutes what is believed to be the first public acknowledgement from a US government official — serving or recently retired — that Chinese espionage against Taiwanese targets may be affecting the US’ willingness to provide security assistance to Taipei.
Responding to Stanton’s charge, the ministry said it had been zealous in pursuing cases of Chinese espionage against the Taiwanese military, and that this zealousness proved its “credibility” in combating the Chinese spying threat.
“We will continue working on measures to safeguard our security,” it said.
Sheila Paskman, spokeswoman at the American Institute in Taiwan, said that Stanton’s “views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of AIT or the [US] Department of State.”