January Election Could Reshape Taiwan Military
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Taiwan’s presidential election in January could bring a shift in defense policy and a slow-down in cross-Strait ties with China — that is, if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Tsai Ingwen, defeats the incumbent, President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
A DPP insider and former national security official said Tsai would consider a number of changes to current defense policy, including giving the green light to production of the 1,000-kilometer-range Hsiung Feng 2E Block 3 land-attack cruise missile.
Production began in 2010 for the 600-kilometer range HF-2E Block 2, but Taiwan postponed production of the Block 3 in 2008 due to pressure from the U.S. The Block 1 has a range of 300 to 400 kilometers and only a few were produced for testing, the DPP source said.
“The critical issue for Tsai, if she becomes president, is whether she will order mass production of the Block 3,” he said. “I will strongly advise Tsai to have an intensive discussion with those working with China and the U.S. before going forward.” This is a “crucial decision and can’t be taken lightly.” The election is expected to be close; current polls place the candidates neck and neck.
Since Ma took office in 2008, China and Taiwan have moved closer economically and diplomatically. However, there has been some criticism that Ma has moved too quickly to placate China and ignored national security matters.
China could react negatively to a Tsai win, but few expect violence. China has threatened to use force if Taiwan continues to resist unification, and the DPP has a history of provocative independence language. However, Tsai has toned down such rhetoric during her campaign and challenged China to reduce its military threat to Taiwan as a sign of goodwill.
“Since I don’t think the DPP will reverse the achievements of the KMT on the cross-Strait issue, I don’t think the mainland side will be too nervous over prospects of a DPP victory, though it’s obviously not the best news,” said Da Wei, director of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing.
Maj. Gen. Zhu “Tiger” Chenghu, director-general of China’s National Defense University, cautioned that China’s military “reaction will be dependent on the behavior of the DPP ... [Tsai] will have to consider the interests of her voters.”
A Tsai win in January would no doubt give Beijing headaches, said Liu Fu-kuo, a cross-Strait specialist at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University.
If Tsai aggravates China too much, the most likely result would be “no further talks or agreements,” Liu said. Beijing would simply ignore Taipei during her term as president. The DPP also wants to modify Taiwan’s plans to implement an allvolunteer military across all ranks. Instead, the DPP would continue conscription except for officers and noncommissioned officers, who would be volunteers, the DPP source said.
“The all-volunteer system now being implemented will not work during a war,” he said.
Another change from the current system, which includes conscripts, when a “green soldier” joins a unit, he lowers the unit’s combat readiness, the source said.
But in the DPP’s system, units would be formed on a cyclical basis so they train together as a group. This is an “all-in or all-out” system, the DPP source said, and new units would be formed five times a year to maintain consistency in combat readiness.
Tsai would also consider asking the U.S. to sell Taiwan refurbished short-takeoff, vertical-landing (STOVL) AV-8B Harrier jump jets. The STOVL option would allow Taiwan, should it go to war with China, to continue operating fighter jets after runways are destroyed by China’s ballistic missile arsenal, which numbers about 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).
However, the Taiwan Air Force is not in favor of the AV-8B “because it is subsonic,” the DPP source said.
Another option is increasing the number of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile batteries.
Taiwan has three missile defense batteries equipped with PAC-2 Plus batteries, now being upgraded to PAC-3 standards. Taiwan ordered another six PAC-3 batteries, which will bring the total to nine missile defense batteries.
The DPP source said Taiwan needs 12 missile defense batteries to defend itself against China’s expanding SRBM threat.