Chairman, Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, Taiwan Legislative Yuan
Interviewed by Wendell Minnick in Taipei.
Shuai Hua-Ming is a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the only member of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee who has served in the Ministry of National Defense.
Shuai served in the Army in both the regular infantry and in the special forces. A 1978 graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, he became one of the few Taiwanese government officials to attend a U.S. military academy. He later graduated from Taiwan's War College, National Defense University, in 1986, and retired in 2001 as a lieutenant general.
Shuai was elected to the Legislative Yuan in 2005, where he was appointed to the defense committee that same year. As defense chairman, he was the main architect of the law that will introduce an all-volunteer force and for the overall restructuring of the military commands.
Q. IF THE U.S. DOES NOT GRANT TAIWAN'S REQUEST TO BUY 66 F-16C/D BLOCK 50/52 FIGHTERS, WILL THAT CHANGE THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE STRAIT?
A. I want to emphasize that over 60 years, Taiwan's key defense element has been air superiority. The Taiwan Strait is the main block between Taiwan and mainland China. Every military person understands this. Over the past 60 years, we have maintained air superiority over China. Only then can we defend ourselves.
Our F-16A/B, Mirage 2000-5s and Indigenous Defense Fighters [IDF] are 10 to 15 years old. They are facing midlife upgrades. So at this time, we really need something to begin replacing these fighters. The current situation is the Mirages, IDFs and F-16s purchased in the 1990s do not have the air-superiority edge against China's newer fighters, such as the J-10s and Su-27s.
The F-16C/D release by the U.S. is critical. Taiwan's national defense strategy is to try to interdict the invasion force in the middle of the Strait before reaching Taiwan. Taiwan's territory is very narrow and limited. Our strategy should be to stop the invasion fleet in the Strait. The main battle should be in the Strait, not on the land.
The F-16C/D has more countermeasure capabilities to interdict an invasion at sea compared to the F-16A/B. That is why the F-16C/D sale is so sensitive with China.
Q. PRESIDENT MA YING-JEOU HAS SUGGESTED A DEFENSE BUDGET OF 3 PERCENT OF GDP. IS THAT SUSTAINABLE WITH THE CURRENT WORLD FINANCIAL CRISIS?
A. The national defense budget for 2009 will be about $9.58 billion. The 3 percent Ma promised during his election will not be reduced because whether we are spending money on U.S. arms or not, implementing the all-volunteer system will be costly enough. If we don't get the weapons from the U.S., this is a very good opportunity to use the money to educate and train our troops. So in the future, when the U.S. does release the arms, we will know how to use them. We don't need to be in hurry to buy arms when we don't know how to use them. What Taiwan needs the most is to implement the RMA [revolution in military affairs] concept; not just new weapon systems, but training and organization modification, as well.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR CONCERNS ABOUT MISSILE DEFENSE?
A. Since [then-U.S. President George W.] Bush released Patriot PAC-3 air defense missiles in 2001, some of the threats have changed. We need to rethink some of the items already released. The Patriot PAC-3 is an example. The PAC-3 is only one part of an overall ballistic missile defense system. This is not cost-effective, because the first strategy is to intercept the missiles as they cross the Strait. China has over 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles that can hit Taiwan. We have to use two PAC-3s to intercept one Chinese missile. That means we need 2,000 PAC-3s to intercept all the missiles in a saturation attack to protect the single defended area. We only got six sets of PAC-3s from the U.S. We can only use them to protect very important sites, such as Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, but there are so many other important sites that need to be protected.
Q. IS TAIWAN CONSIDERING BUILDING SUBMARINES IF THE U.S. DOES NOT PROVIDE THEM?
A. This is just a virtual topic. An emotional statement: "If you don't sell them to us, we'll build them ourselves." Taiwan does not have a very large national defense industry. So if you make a case to build them here, then we can only build the outer body. The combat and propulsion system would have to be procured from outside of Taiwan. If we set up a line to build eight submarines to meet Taiwan's demand, then what do we do after that? If we can't have international export market, is it worth setting up a production line for only eight submarines and then stop? It will be a very expensive program.
Q. WHAT CHALLENGES HAS TAIWAN FACED WITH U.S. PROCUREMENTS?
A. When we look at the P-3C Orion, the U.S. originally agreed to sell a hot aircraft, but now they are offering us a cold aircraft. The U.S. is pulling the P-3s from the graveyard. We worry that parts and components production lines will stop. What we worry about is what kind of equipment you are selling us.
Based on our experience on buying U.S. equipment over the years, much of it has been older and sanitized functional equipment, which has caused problems for us to integrate. U.S. military sales policy has a lot of political restrictions and limitations.
The U.S. only cares about the quantity and price of what it sells to Taiwan. We worry about how it will help us defend Taiwan. Have you heard the expression "T-model?" That means "Taiwan Model," which for us equals a downgraded model. It's an incomplete package the U.S. sells to Taiwan.
For example, a long time ago I was involved in negotiations with the U.S. for the Pathfinder navigation/attack FLIR [forward looking infrared] pod for the F-16A/B. The U.S. official told me they were not going to include the laser beam for the pod. I told them that the pod would not work if you cut off the laser. Why should we buy it? That makes no sense. After a couple of years, they finally added it. It's like selling a car without tires.
Q. SOME IN WASHINGTON WORRY THAT TAIPEI'S WARMING RELATIONS WITH CHINA COULD ALLOW U.S. ARMS TO LEAK TO BEIJING.
A. The U.S. should not worry about whether Taiwan will merge with China. At the American think tanks and in the U.S. government, you hear a lot of this type of talk, and some are using this as an excuse not to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, citing fears the weapons will [be] transferred to China. Some of these rumors are just too much.
Q: THERE ARE CONCERNS THAT GROWING ECONOMIC TIES ACROSS THE TAIWAN STRAIT WILL RESULT IN CHINA CONTROLLING TAIWAN'S ECONOMY.
A. Taiwan independence was never really possible anyway. What is your definition of Taiwan independence? We continue to use the name "Republic of China" and at the same time maintain Taiwan culture. That's different. I admit Taiwan's economy and culture will be influenced by China. This will change the way Taiwanese feel and think about China. This is a policy strategy that Beijing is using now. The issue between the two sides is like a marriage negotiation between a man and a woman. There are differences.
Q. THE STREAMLINING MEASURES NOW BEING INTRODUCED WILL CUT THE SIZE OF THE MILITARY IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS AND GO TO AN ALL-VOLUNTEER FORCE. HOW WILL THE MILITARY MANAGE WITH FEWER TROOPS?
A. I am a supporter of the all-volunteer service. Taiwan has two problems. The population is decreasing, and the conscript system can't support such a large force. When I was in the military, every year there was 170,000 people joining the military. If every person served for two years, it would be 340,000 men in uniform. This year there are only 90,000 who qualified, and you can only maintain a military of only 200,000. The second reason is that the former administration reduced the time conscripts serve from two years to one year. And they get more than 100 days off, and that leaves about less 200 days service in the military. How can you train a modern military in that time? So they cannot continue with the conscript system.
Q: WHAT CHALLENGES WILL THERE BE TO THE ALL-VOLUNTEER FORCE?
A. This raises other issues. There are structure problems. We have too many generals compared to other militaries. This system was designed by Chiang Kai-Shek to return to the mainland China. He wanted to mobilize large numbers of mainland farmers and we needed a lot of generals to run it. We still have this system. That is why this type of military force structure is too big. ■
AT A GLANCE
■ Taiwan's defense budget (Figures for 2009):
Total: $9.58 billion
Percent of GDP: 3
Percent of government expenditure: 17.6
■ Armed forces troop strength: 275,000
■ Agencies: Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, Veteran Affairs Commission, National Security Agency