Taiwan’s “parliament” on January 11 passed an extra spending bill of nearly $8.6 billion in its latest bid to boost defence capabilities to counter what is seen as China’s increased military activities.
The administration proposed a five-year special defence budget of around NT$237.3 billion (US$8.54 billion) from 2022 as mainland military aircraft flew into Taiwan’s so-called “air defence zone” in record numbers last year.
Beijing’s efforts to seek reunification of the island have increased considerably since Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016, as she regards the island as a “sovereign nation” and not part of “one China”.
Last year, around 970 mainland military aircraft flew into the island’s “air defence zone”, according to a database compiled by AFP, more than double the roughly 380 recorded in 2020.
On January 11, Taiwan lawmakers agreed unanimously to pass the special budget, although cut it by NT$310 million. The package comes on top of a record annual defence budget of NT$471.7 billion set for 2022.
It aims to acquire various precision missiles and mass-manufacture high-efficiency naval ships “in the shortest period of time” to boost the island’s sea and air capabilities, the administration said.
J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political and military analyst, called the special budget “an encouraging and much-needed development” as Taiwan prioritises “asymmetrical” capabilities, such as unmanned vehicles, anti-ship missiles and air-to-ground cruise missiles.
“Many of those are ‘counterforce’ capabilities, with ranges that are long enough to hit targets along China’s coastline” in line with the direction Taiwan’s defence ministry has taken in recent years, said Cole, a senior fellow for Canadian think tank Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
“This move will also be welcomed by the US, which often complains that Taiwan focuses too much on large conventional platforms at the detriment of smaller, more dispersible and less costly ‘asymmetrical’ capabilities.”
Washington has remained a leading ally and arms supplier to Taiwan despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
The budget includes a coastal anti-ship missiles system, a locally-developed Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cruise missile as well as an attack drone system and installation of combat systems on coastguard ships.
Cole also points out the benefit of ensuring quicker delivery as many of the armaments are produced domestically.
“The latter is a crucial part, as Taiwan needs to make sure it has the capabilities to deter, and if needed to counter China now, not five, 10 years from now.”