Greater military spending won’t ensure Taiwan’s security

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, speaking at a press conference on Monday upon his return from the U.S. as head of an arms-procurement inspection mission, revealed a security concern that drew attention from his remarks about the delegation’s achievement of winning U.S. concessions to renegotiate supply prices.

Wang, quoting unidentified Washington sources, said that Taiwan had been faced with the possibility of invasion from mainland China during the period after President Chen Shui-bian’s re-election on March 20 and before he took office on May 20 to begin his second term. Wang continued that although the tensions in the Taiwan Strait have eased after Chen made conciliatory remarks in his inaugural speech, the danger of war does not seem to have gone away. He quoted the U.S. sources as saying that Beijing, if it decides to start a war, could choose the year 2006 as the timing for doing so. Beijing’s holding of the 2008 Olympics and the U.S. presidential elections were given as the reasons why the communist government could take military action around 2006. Clearly, an immediate war was averted because President Chen, in his speech, did not declare his assertion of Taiwan and the mainland being two separate countries, and pledged not to use a constitutional overhaul to achieve formal independence in the final two years of his new term. That the danger of war remains is also clear. Chen has not given up his pursuit of independence. In the speech, he still dodged the “one China” issue and used word games to assert an independent Taiwan. Just a few days back when addressing supporters from his home county of Tainan, Chen resumed his provocative campaign rhetoric by saying, in the next four years, he will certainly adopt a fitting, relevant and timely new Taiwan Constitution that would allow this island to become a normal, complete and great country. A day earlier, former President Lee Teng-hui, the spiritual leader of grass-roots independence groups and a close friend of Chen, swore the launch of a campaign to write a new Constitution. He said Taiwan must have a new Constitution and change the national title of the Republic of China.

If the independence movement has now constituted a powerful incentive for China to attack Taiwan, we then need to take a new look at the defense policy. It has become increasingly clear that our security can no longer be properly addressed by purchasing more high-performance weapons. The underlying issue now between Taiwan and mainland China is that Chen and his supporters persist with the pursuit of independence and that Beijing wants to stop the movement even at the price of a war. This being the case, if Chen wants to keep his political agenda, Taiwan must invest considerably more and continuously to ensure military supremacy over China. But this will be absolutely impossible, given Taiwan’s limited economic resources. It was disappointing that Speaker Wang had failed to perceive these realities. He told the reporters attending the conference that to “maintain the balance of military power in the strait is the only way to prevent war.” His assessment caused concern in particular because of the likelihood that he may become a more important political player. He is the top candidate to take over as the chairman of the opposition KMT and to represent the party in the 2008 presidential race. The view taken by some Washington officials, as recounted by Taiwan lawmakers visiting the U.S. as members of the delegation, was similarly disappointing. They said that Taiwan could even provoke communist invasion by failing to strengthen its defenses. And by maintaining a strong military force, Taiwan would be in a better position to enter into talks with Beijing. This view was tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. If Taiwan continues to increase military investment, it would only prompt Beijing to do the same. Unless we can catch up with the speed of investment in such an arms race, we would face even a greater risk of invasion by China. More fundamentally, Beijing would not soften its opposition to Chen’s pro-independence policy and offer to resume dialogue because of a militarily strengthened Taiwan. There is little possibility that the mainland would yield on the independence issue, given its declared policy that it will defend its territorial integrity at any cost.

Increasingly, Washington’s Taiwan policy arouses speculation that it only wants to see a continuation of the long-standing military standoff in the Taiwan Strait, not trying to help resolve tensions at its source. This is because a continued cross-strait military standoff could prolong U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and, moreover, is in line with Washington’s strategic interests. Taiwan’s lawmakers, particularly those from the opposition parties, must re-examine the defense policy. Taxpayers would not allow their government to keep increasing military expenses, while at the same time following a provocative independence policy.

The politicians must not ignore the concerns of the many civil groups which have come forward to challenge the legitimacy of the current NT$600 billion arms-purchasing plan and demand public debate on the policy.