Taiwan Sets Self-Defense Objectives

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 21, 2006

BEIJING, May 20 -- Taiwan unveiled its first formal national security policy Saturday, pledging to increase defense spending by 20 percent and urging China to cooperate in establishing a military buffer zone to lower tension in the Taiwan Strait.

The 162-page document, issued after long delays and extensive debate among President Chen Shui-bian's advisers, was designed as a guideline for this and future governments in defending the self-ruled island against any attack from China, officials said. Reflecting Chen's dream of full Taiwanese independence, it postulates that Taiwan's "overall strategic goal is to guarantee the country's sovereignty."

China had no immediate reaction. It has long insisted, however, that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation, but a province that must return to the Chinese fold. China has vowed to use force, though as a last resort, to prevent the island and its 23 million inhabitants from attaining formal independence.

In describing Taiwan's security environment, Chen's government compared the Chinese military to the Nazi war machine in World War II and asserted that China is bent on long-term military expansion that requires it to control Taiwan and the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. In a recent interview, Chen said Taiwanese intelligence had information that China has a plan to attack the island within 10 years, but this assertion was not repeated in the strategy declaration.

Only by building up its own military and economic strength, the document declared, can Taiwan preserve its de facto independence and democratic system. To make that possible, it said, the government will boost military spending from 2.5 to 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Chen's government has been trying without success for the last several years to increase the military budget to accommodate an $18 billion purchase of U.S. weapons. The Legislative Yuan, controlled by the opposition Nationalist Party, has refused to approve the funds, saying the weapons package is too expensive and not appropriate to Taiwan's needs.

In addition, the document said, the Defense Ministry will go ahead with previously announced plans to reduce the 300,000-member military by a third over the next two years, in part by cutting back the length of required service from 18 months to one year.

The strategy declaration emphasized that overall national strength, not just weapons and soldiers, is key to Taiwan's security. It said Taiwan's position in the world should be enhanced by forging relations with more nations and international organizations, for instance, and the economy should be reinforced to avoid presenting China with new opportunities for pressure.

There was no mention of any shift away from Taiwan's fundamentally defensive military strategy and cultivation of ties with the United States, which has pledged to help in the island's defense but opposes unilateral steps toward independence. As the strategy was being debated over the months, reports in Taipei, the capital, said that some of Chen's advisers had pushed for a shift to a more offensive stance. This would be based mainly on cruise missiles, the reports said, which Taiwan can produce more cheaply than buying the PAC-3 defensive missile systems proposed by the United States.

"Any kind of countermeasures would be for defense," said Michael Tsai, deputy secretary general of Chen's National Security Council. "We're not pursuing preemptive capabilities, and we will not develop nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction."

The call for a buffer zone in the Taiwan Strait echoed earlier suggestions by Chen. He said tensions could be lowered and accidental conflicts avoided if both sides' military forces and missiles -- the strategy document specified cruise missiles -- were barred from the area around Taiwan.

When proposed earlier, the idea did not draw a response from China, which has an interest in maintaining pressure on Taiwan to prevent Chen from taking further steps toward formal independence. China's official New China News Agency announced Friday, for instance, that the Chinese military recently practiced amphibious landings, the kind that would be necessary for any invasion of Taiwan.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. Embassy, praised Chen's government for laying out its security thinking for the public in Taiwan and abroad. Repeating a frequent demand from Washington, he called on China to do the same.

"For a democratic society like Taiwan to try and present a comprehensive explanation of its national security policy is a welcome step," he said, "and I think it is a model China should follow and learn from, because they should be more transparent on these issues themselves."

Special correspondent Tim Culpan in Taipei contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company