KMT think tank questions diplomacy ‘black budget’

MILITARY MISSTEPS::The group said a record-low defense budget could threaten the nation’s security, while a recruitment estimate might have been overblown

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Sep 21, 2017 - Page 3

The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) National Policy Foundation think tank yesterday raised questions over revised budget proposals for the current fiscal year, saying that the government might be reinstating “dollar diplomacy” through a drastically inflated “black budget,” while the national defense budget has slumped to a record low of NT$327.8 billion (US$10.88 billion).

At NT$1.72 billion, the black budget for diplomacy has nearly quadrupled from last year’s NT$464 million, foundation Department of National Security convener Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) told a news conference in Taipei.

The budget would make up 6.47 percent of the nation’s overall spending over the next 12 months, compared with 1.89 percent over the past 12 months, Lin said, adding that it has received a larger allocation than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ black budget.

He questioned the intent behind the increase, saying that due to the nation’s diplomatic plight, it could involve a “secretive dollar diplomacy” agenda similar to those of past administrations, which drew significant public criticism.

The defense budget accounts for a record low 1.84 percent of the nation’s projected GDP of NT$17.78 trillion for next year, meaning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has failed to honor her campaign promise to boost defense spending to 3 percent of GDP, which, based on the forecast, should be NT$533.6 billion, Lin said.

There is an uneven distribution of funds in the defense budget, with personnel costs taking up 46 percent, meaning the quota for purchasing, researching and developing weapons has been reduced, he said.

Since Tsai took office, the budget for procuring arms has continued to decline to about NT$86 billion, compared with NT$97.7 billion allocated in 2015 during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) second term, he added.

Concern over the nation’s ability to defend itself has been aggravated by the slowing progress on Tsai’s initiative to locally build warships, Lin said.

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the ministry has earmarked NT$116 million for the Overseas Community Affairs Council, he said.

It is inappropriate to allocate funds from a black budget for the council, as subsidizing overseas Taiwanese groups could strike a sensitive nerve for foreign governments and the Democratic Progressive Party should avoid giving the impression that it is trying to interfere with other nations’ domestic affairs, he added.

Lin also questioned the government’s estimate of low-ranking military officers it expects to recruit over the next 12 months — 8,523, 1.8 times the number recorded in the past 12 months, 4,762 — saying that the figure might have been overblown.

The increase was forecast, despite a Ministry of National Defense plan to reduce the number of volunteer officers and soldiers from 175,000 to about 160,000, which makes it seem improbable, he said.

He raised concerns over the downsizing of the military, saying that it could impact the nation’s ability to defend itself.