Taiwan’s QDR Reveals Rift; MND Voices Doubt About Chinese Ties
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Taiwan’s first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) suggests Ministry of National Defense (MND) leaders are not fully comfortable with President Ma Ying-jeou’s cross-Strait efforts.
In the foreword to the QDR, released March 16, Defense Minister Chen Chao-min notes the military’s discomfort with Ma’s public discussions of possible confidence-building measures and even a peace treaty with China.
“The ROC [Taiwan] stands at a historic turning point,” he wrote, calling for the continued purchase of advanced arms.
Chen’s foreword is far from a full-throated critique. It touts Ma’s “vigorous new policies” and the revival of “our long-broken dialog and negotiation with mainland China,” saying they have “eased tensions” and “fostered regional security.”
But the defense minister made his stance plainer in March 16 testimony before the legislature, saying it was too early for confidence-building measures and military-to-military exchanges with China. He said China’s military should answer Taiwan’s peace overtures by removing ballistic missiles and renouncing the use of military force. China has roughly 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.
One analyst said the foreword does not indicate a full-fledged split between Ma and the MND.
“The QDR gives the legislature and the international community a direction that indicates Taiwan is developing its military capability to maintain peace,” said Alexander Huang, an analyst here for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington. “Friends and allies should feel at ease that despite improving crossStrait relations, Taiwan’s military is committed to modernization and procurement.”
One analyst said the QDR shows no signs that Taiwan’s military is reducing its acquisition plans or overall capabilities.
“You don’t see reductions or downgrading of our air superiority or sea control capability. You don’t see a reduction in arms deals or acquisition from the U.S.,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, here. “Why? Because Beijing shows no sign of reducing their military preparation for Taiwan.”
The QDR proposes reducing commands to three; cutting troops from 275,000 to 215,000, and eliminating conscription.
The QDR does not mention plans to buy specific weapons, but calls for improving the island’s arsenal of advanced arms by acquiring submarines, missiles, fighter jets and C4ISR systems.
In a March 17 press conference, Lt. Gen. Wu Chien-hsing, Air Force chief of staff, said Taiwan wants the U.S.-built F-16 fighters whose purchase has been on hold since 2007.
The QDR notes the Army’s plans to buy multiple rocket launchers, utility helicopters and UAVs.
Taiwan is expecting the United States to release the UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter soon, and there have been reports the Army wants M1 Abrams tanks.
Besides the submarines, the QDR’s naval procurement goals include large and medium-size warships, missile patrol boats, airlaunched anti-ship missiles, minesweepers and minesweeper helicopters.
Then-President George W. Bush offered Taiwan eight submarines in 2001, but the sale is in limbo. U.S. officials have been rebuffing Taipei’s requests for Aegis-equipped destroyers for more than a decade.
Analyst Yang noted that China’s reach is spreading. Five years ago, scholars studying China’s military talked about the military threat to Taiwan, but now they are looking at China’s capabilities beyond Taiwan.
“China’s defense parameters have moved out further into the Pacific,” he said. The conception of China’s military modernization has expanded as its economic and political influence has spread. The recent U.S.-China confrontation in the South China Sea is an obvious example of a clash of strategic interests.”
Yang said that China will not accept Taiwanese proposals for confidence-building measures unless Taipei stops buying U.S. arms. He said that appears unlikely.