Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen wants US$11 billion defence budget as Beijing threat grows

Island facing ‘more obvious and complicated threats’, leader says as she asks for 5.6pc rise in military spending

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:20pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Monday she is seeking to increase military spending, as relations with Beijing deteriorate.

Her proposal to increase the 2019 defence budget by 5.6 per cent to NT$346 billion (US$11.3 billion) will go before parliament after the summer recess.

Beijing sees the democratic self-ruled island as part of its territory to be brought back into its fold, by force if necessary.

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Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taipei since Tsai came to power two years ago, as her government refuses to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”.

The People’s Liberation Army has staged a string of air and naval exercises, including a live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait in April, which mainland officials said were aimed at Taiwan’s “independence forces”.

“There have been many changes in international and regional situations, and our national security is faced with more obvious and complicated threats,” Tsai said as she attended a naval ceremony and announced the defence spending plan.

The proposed defence budget would represent almost 2.2 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product. Last year’s military budget rose by just 1.9 per cent from 2016.

About a fifth of the 2019 budget would be spent on “defence self-sufficiency” projects, Tsai said.

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Taiwan wants to strengthen its home-grown defence systems, particularly its submarines.

The United States government this year approved a licence required to sell submarine technology to Taiwan, part of warming relations between the two sides.

Although the US does not have official diplomatic relations with Taipei after switching recognition to Beijing in 1979, it remains the island’s most powerful ally and arms supplier.

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A long-stalled offer approved by then US president George W. Bush in 2001 to supply eight conventional submarines has never come to fruition.

Last year, Taiwan also announced its bid to create a new generation of locally built jet trainers by 2026.