Taiwan makes moves to bolster its military

Tsai administration this month announced it would increase Taiwan’s defense budget by 10 percent this year

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Han Kuang exercises 

Han Kuang exercises  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has been making moves to revamp its military in the face of increased military threats and posturing from China.

Talking to the New York Times, Wang Ting-yu (王定宇), a member of the legislature’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said, “I have to be honest: Taiwan’s military needs to improve a lot.” Chinese fighter jets and warships have repeatedly entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and territorial waters in recent months.

In response, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has forged ahead with military changes. She has moved to strengthen Taiwan’s reserves, a force that would be critical to defending the country in the event of a Chinese invasion.

The Tsai administration this month announced that it would increase Taiwan’s defense budget by 10 percent this year, in addition to a five percent increase in 2019. That would raise military spending to more than two percent of gross domestic product, according to the New York Times.

The country recently finalized an US$8 billion deal, first announced last year, to acquire 66 U.S. F-16 fighter jets over the next decade. In 2019, the U.S. State Department also approved a US$2.2 billion sale of 108 Abrams tanks.

In May, the Trump administration notified Congress of its intent to sell US$180 million worth of advanced torpedoes to Taiwan. On Aug. 6, Reuters reported that the U.S. is also working on the sale of at least four SeaGuardian surveillance drones to Taiwan in a deal estimated to be worth around US$600 million.

Beijing now has “an array of options for a Taiwan campaign, ranging from an air and maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion,” according to a 2019 Pentagon report on the Chinese military, the New York Times cited. The report highlighted the challenges involved with such an invasion, but Beijing’s military buildup over recent years “has eroded or negated” many of Taiwan’s advantages, such as geography and technical superiority.

Military analysts point out that Taiwan cannot compete head-to-head with China in terms of military hardware and that the country should instead look to bolster capabilities that would slow or cripple an invading Chinese force. These could include sea mines, submarines, and missile systems.

Another challenge Taiwan faces is the lack of soldiers, with the number of ground troops currently down to 140,000 from 200,000 in 2005, according to the New York Times. Young Taiwanese men are now only required to serve four months of compulsory service before joining the reserves.

Last Friday (Aug. 28), the president vowed not to “bow to pressure” as she unveiled an F-16 fighter jet maintenance center in central Taiwan. Tsai also said she would work to improve economic ties with Washington, including by easing U.S. pork and beef imports.