China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 16, 2016
Executive Summary: If the government's “national defense autonomy” proposal can be implemented smoothly, it will undoubtedly reduce Taiwan's need for US arms purchases, and reduce pressure on the defense budget. But this is not what the US side wants to see. Trump in particular, is committed to arms sales to Taiwan. In such a case, the Tsai government must choose between supporting domestic manufacture and US arms purchases.
Full Text Below:
US president-elect Donald Trump has touched a sensitive nerve by calling attention to cross-Strait issues. One cannot assume that this will be his policy upon taking office. But Trump himself and his appointments of key White House staff members and national security advisors do not bode well. The three way interaction among Washington, Beijing, Taipei may be troubled.
After speaking with President Tsai, Trump Tweeted that the US sells billions of dollars in arms to Taiwan every year. This explains why he picked up the phone, and raised speculation that he would increase arms sales to Taiwan upon taking office. Trump even questioned the need for the United States to adhere to the One China Policy. His main purpose however, was to adopt a hard bargaining position, in the hope of linking the One China Policy to Sino-US trade negotiations. Trump is aware of the importance of the One China Policy. But he intends to use it as a bargaining chip in exchange for other concessions. He simultaneously used the opportunity to increase US strategic commitment to Mainland China, allowing for greater latitude in US policy toward Taiwan.
In fact, the US government has long adhered to the One China Policy. But it has also had its own counter-strategies. The United States government is bound by the Taiwan Relations Act and will resist any resort to force or other high-handed means to endanger the safety and socio-economic system of the public on Taiwan. This is a commonly held perception on Taiwan. The United States will help in the event of cross-Strait crisis. But this does not mean that the United States will send troops to confront the Mainland directly. The main idea is to enhance Taiwan's independent defense capability. The most important means of achieving this, is arms sales to Taiwan. But pressure from the Mainland and the international situation, limits the quality and quantity of US arms sold to Taiwan. They do not fully meet Taiwan's needs, and are often delayed for various reasons.
The government's budget is limited, and the funds earmarked for national defense have been inadequate. Since democratization, the defense budget has declined relative to GDP. It has remained close to 2% in recent years, far below US expectations. The United States has long urged Taiwan to increase the percentage of defense budget to 3%. US Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asian Affairs Abraham Denmark recently took part in a think tank forum. He made clear that the Mainland has undergone military modernization and is determined to reunify China. Taiwan must make preparations and invest in order to contain aggression. Taiwan's defense budget has not kept pace with the threat, and therefore must be increased.
President Tsai declared her commitment to this goal during her election campaign. At this moment, the Tsai government's defense policy and the United States government's policy for Taiwan are aligned. Trump's words and deeds have not broken out of this US government framework. They actively promote it. Increasing tensions in US-China relations will make arms sales to Taiwan easier. Either that, or they may enable the US to extract concessions from the Mainland in other areas. In any event this strategy is favorable to the US.
The problem is mainly on the Taiwan side. President Tsai declared her desire for "national defense autonomy". She wants “domestic manufacture of warplanes” and “domestic manufacture of warships”. She wants a win-win situation whereby she can upgrade Taiwan's armaments, while developing the defense industry. But Taiwan is limited in its R & D capability and experience. It can implement localization only in limited areas. It may be able to realize small-scale projects such as the Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III Mobile Launch Vehicles. Important projects include the Air Force next-generation military trainer. The Han Hsiang Company would make replacements for the AT-3 trainer and F-5E/F fighters. But R&D time and capacity constraints, and the transition period required, mean that foreign arms purchases would still be needed to fill the gap. The design and construction of submarines still presents many difficulties for Taiwan, which must rely on the US for technical support. Taiwan remains dependent upon the US for missiles, helicopters, and other weapons and equipment. In the short term, these must be purchased from the United States. They cannot change our dependence on the United States. Taiwan also finds itself in at a disadvantage when bargaining over high-priced weapons from the United States.
If the government's proposal can be implemented smoothly, it will undoubtedly reduce Taiwan's need for US arms purchases, and reduce pressure on the defense budget. But this is not what the US side wants to see. Trump in particular, is committed to arms sales to Taiwan. Also, weapons projects would be based on R&D progress on Taiwan. Promoting the domestic manufacture of weapons systems would enable Taiwan to produce competitive weapons, as it has in the past. In such a case, the Tsai government must choose between supporting domestic manufacture and US arms purchases.
President Tsai wants national defense autonomy to develop the relevant industries. She faces constraints from internal R&D technical capacity. More importantly, she faces constraints from the United States. If Taiwan is subject to US policy needs, any efforts toward national defense autonomy will be in vain. More importantly, Taiwan's budget is limited. Many needs must be met. Social welfare, national pensions, health care reform, and other needs, all require funding. Adequate funding is also needed to cope with the temporary turmoil caused by reform. Clearly the government lacks the capacity to increase the defense budget. Still less can it afford to flip-flop between the localization of the arms industry and US arms purchases.
The Tsai government faces a dilemma. It must extricate itself from this whirlpool. The best way to do this, is to institutionalize peaceful cross-Strait relations and end cross-Strait military confrontation.