Asia Pacific / Politics

Top U.S. official says Taiwan needs to increase defense spending due to threat from China

by David Brunnstrom

Reuters

Defense spending in Taiwan has not kept pace with the threat posed by China and should be increased, a senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday, days after President-elect Donald Trump touched off a storm by questioning American policy over the island.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Abraham Denmark said the Obama administration’s “one China” policy remains unchanged but he could not predict Trump’s intentions after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump set off a diplomatic firestorm over the weekend when he questioned why the United States should be bound by the long-standing policy under which Washington recognizes Beijing rather than Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

This followed a Chinese protest over Trump’s Dec. 2 phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the first involving a U.S. president or president-elect since 1979.

Some U.S. analysts warn that Trump could provoke a military confrontation if he presses the Taiwan issue too far.

Denmark told the Project 2049 Forum in Washington that the main focus of China’s military modernization is to achieve reunification with Taiwan, by force if necessary.

“This makes it incumbent on Taiwan to prepare and invest in capabilities to deter aggression and mount an effective defense if deterrence fails,” he said.

“Defense resourcing is critical,” he said. “Taiwan’s defense budget has not kept pace with the threat developments and should be increased.”

The United States is the main political ally and sole arms supplier to diplomatically isolated Taiwan.

He said the administration had notified Congress of more than $14 billion of arms sales to Taiwan since 2010 but declined to say whether any further sales are possible before President Barack Obama leaves office.

He said the United States is committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring Taipei has the capability to defend Taiwan. But he stressed that any decision to do so is up to the president and that the primary responsibility remains with Taiwan itself.

Taiwan has been working to develop its own defense equipment and last year allocated an initial budget for a submarine program, but technology transfer is critical to the success of such projects and it has yet to receive key foreign technological support.

Trump adviser and China hawk Peter Navarro, who has produced books and multipart television documentaries warning of the dangers of China’s rise, has suggested stepped-up engagement with Taiwan, including assistance with its submarine development program.

The Obama administration notified Congress a year ago of a $1.83 billion arms sale package for Taiwan, including two frigates, anti-tank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles and other equipment, drawing an angry response from China.