The Ministry of National Defense last week took a group of reporters on a tour of the nation’s three military services, an event meant to highlight their ability to defend the nation from foreign aggression.
The visits, which included stops at an air defense base in Chiayi, an Army base in Penghu and a Navy base in Zuoying, Kaohsiung, drove home a few points about the state of the nation’s military: While the services are filled with dedicated men and women, and although every effort was made to showcase their high morale, there is no denying that the equipment they use is aging — fast.
This situation would not be so alarming if Taiwan did not face a strong adversary or was not facing the all-too-real threat of invasion. Nor would it make one apprehensive if the enemy had maintained a pace of modernization similar to that of Taiwan. However, the reality is that the frontline systems presented during the media tour — battle tanks, mine hunters, fighter aircraft — seem increasingly antiquated when compared with the weapons fielded by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in recent years. Some are, in fact, museum pieces kept operational for lack of newer equipment.
From the German-built minehunter ship boarded by reporters and the lone submarine submerging in the distance at Zuoying, to the M60A3 main battle tanks rumbling by on Penghu and the F-16A/Bs firing flares during a simulated air attack in Chiayi, it is becoming clear that despite the impeccable maintenance of those platforms, Taiwan is fast losing its edge in the Taiwan Strait. Even non-military experts could see that.
Despite the scarcity of modern systems acquired by Taiwan in recent years, such as Patriot air defense systems and Apache attack helicopters, which in qualitative terms may still keep up with Chinese equivalents, the balance quickly evaporates when the orders of battle are weighed in quantitative terms. In other words, with few exceptions, both qualitatively and quantitatively, Taiwan is running out of gas while the PLA is rushing ahead at breakneck speed.
Furthermore, since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came into office, the defense ministry has been ordered to cut back on live fire drills, the utility of which in ensuring military preparedness cannot be compensated for no matter how many computer simulations are held. For three years in a row, the nation’s defense budget as a share of GDP has also fallen and will be just 2.6 percent of GDP next year — this amid very expensive efforts to create a fully professional military by 2015, a goal that increasingly looks like a pipe dream.
The Ma administration has staked its defense posture on the premise that its diplomatic overtures to Beijing will succeed. Though a peaceful approach to conflict resolution is commendable, doing so with China carries far too many unknowns for Taipei to forsake a robust defense. In fact, investment in the military is not antithetical to a diplomatic approach to longstanding tensions in the Taiwan Strait; it is, rather, responsible planning for various — by no means impossible — scenarios.
For the sake of the dedicated men and women, career soldiers and conscripts alike, who every day put their lives on the line to ensure that Taiwan’s way of life continues unthreatened, the Ma administration should get serious about defense and stop pretending that, a mere two years into cross-strait rapprochement, peace in the Taiwan Strait is upon us, or that today’s relative calm will inevitably extend into the future. Our men and women deserve systems and resources that are equal to the immense challenge they would face should confrontation replace diplomacy in a future scenario.
Though for the moment Beijing’s “peaceful” approach appears to be paying dividends, we should be in no doubt that it is equally prepared for a non-peaceful outcome.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has created a dilemma that could soon cause him to be hoisted with his own petard, bringing his leadership of China to an end. His threatening rhetoric over the unification of Taiwan with China, in which he has said, “we are willing to draw blood if necessary,” has placed Xi in a corner. Xi is portrayed as a strong world leader, yet he has created a scenario for himself that most likely would have an unfavorable outcome. With the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) scheduled to convene this month, Xi cannot
The 77th session of the UN General Assembly opened on Sept. 13. More than 10 overseas Taiwanese organizations had submitted a petition to the UN secretary-general, protesting that 23.5 million Taiwanese are excluded from representation. As president of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance, I also submitted a letter to the UN, saying that Taiwanese should have the right to be represented under the name of Taiwan. The government has been asking its allies to support Taiwan’s entry into the UN, but under its official name, the Republic of China (ROC). Doing so would have involved the right to represent China, with
I was privileged to meet with many of Taiwan’s leaders and leading thinkers during a study tour visit in August. One theme I heard several times during that trip was that bad relations between the United States and China benefit Taiwan. At first thought, I empathize with the argument. After all, there is a troubling record of America’s leaders negotiating with Beijing over the heads of Taiwan’s leaders. For example, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt returned Taiwan to China after World War II. President Richard Nixon surprised Taiwan leaders with his 1972 trip to China. President Jimmy Carter unilaterally chose to normalize
Washington’s “one China” policy has not changed and the US does not take a position on Taiwan’s sovereignty issue, a US Department of State spokesperson has said. He said that this has been the principle of US policy toward Taiwan since 1979, and the policy has remained in effect. He also said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has privately made this clear to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅). The US’ “one China” policy and China’s “one China” principle recognize China as the “representative of China.” The two diverge on the issue of Taiwan: Beijing asserts sovereignty