TAIPEI – Taiwan will increase defense spending by 2 percent a year, President Tsai Ing-wen said during a visit to Hawaii where the United States expressed concern over a possible military imbalance in the Taiwan Straits, Taiwan media reported.
If Taiwan purchases arms from a foreign military, the island’s defense spending could increase as much as 3 percent a year, and could possibly rise further using a special budget if “significant purchase cases” are made, Tsai said in remarks carried by official media Monday.
She made the comments in response to U.S. concerns about a possible military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait expressed by Ambassador James Moriarty during a meeting.
Tsai did not elaborate on when the increased defense spending would start.
Her comments were reflected by National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Tsai Ming-yen, who recounted the conversation between Tsai and Moriarty about expanding Taiwan’s national defense policy.
Moriarty, who is chairman of the U.S. Mission in Taiwan, expressed concern about China’s double-digit growth in defense spending in the last few years, and that Taiwan needs to address a possible military imbalance over the Taiwan Strait, according to Deputy Secretary-General Tsai.
President Tsai reportedly replied that Taiwan will develop a comprehensive plan in accordance with strategic needs, short-term issues and long-term plans, to create defense forces on the island that boast “reliable combat effectiveness.”
Tsai stopped in Hawaii over the weekend on her way to three of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific. China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, called unsuccessfully on the United States to stop the trip.
Her trip comes about a week before President Donald Trump visits Asia.
China has increased pressure on Taiwan since Tsai took office last year, suspecting she wants to push formal independence. China has conducted more military drills around Taiwan and peeled away its few remaining diplomatic allies.
Tsai described Taiwan-U.S. relations as being “unprecedentedly friendly” in comments released by the presidential office Monday.
“We are happy to see U.S. promises of peace and stability for the Asia-Pacific region, and from meetings with the United States understand the necessity to increase investment in defense,” it quoted her as saying.
The U.S. and Taiwan have not had formal diplomatic relations since Washington established ties with Beijing in 1979, but America is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
Taiwan is well-armed with mostly U.S.-made weapons but has been pushing for sales of more advanced equipment, such as fighter jets, to deal with what Taipei sees as a growing threat from China and its own rapidly modernizing armed forces.
China has never renounced use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. It regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue between Beijing and Washington and has been upset by U.S. moves to expand military exchanges and continued arms sales to the island.
Tsai’s stopover in Hawaii included a tour of a Pearl Harbor memorial, a banquet with the overseas Taiwan community and joint speeches with Moriarty.
It was her second U.S. visit this year. In January, she stopped in Houston and San Francisco on her way to and from Latin America.
Tsai is scheduled this week to visit the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands before stopping in the U.S. territory of Guam on her way back to Taiwan.