Chinese military's priority is to stop Taiwanese independence: Pentagon

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Chinese military's primary mission remains deterring Taiwan from declaring independence despite an overall reduction of tensions following the re-election of President Ma Ying-jeou in 2012, a Pentagon report said on Friday.

In a US Department of Defence report to Congress that assessed China's military and security developments, the Pentagon said "dealing with a potential contingency in the Taiwan Strait remains the PLA's primary mission despite warming cross-strait ties over the past years."

"Should conditions change, the PLA could be called upon to compel Taiwan to abandon possible moves toward independence or to reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force while deterring, delaying or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan's behalf," it noted.

The report said Taiwan has "historically relied upon multiple military variables to deter PLA aggression, namely, Taiwan military's technological superiority and the inherent geographic advantages of island defence."

China's increasingly modern weapons and platforms, however, have "eroded or negated many of these factors," it said.

In response to growing Chinese military prowess, Taiwan is "taking important steps to build its war reserve stocks, grow its defence industrial base, improve joint operations and crisis response capabilities, and strengthen its officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps."

These improvements partially address Taiwan's declining defensive advantages, the report said.

The Pentagon report also warns that Taiwan's ongoing transition to a full voluntary military combined with an insufficient budget to support it could jeopardize Taiwan's defence readiness.

Pentagon's warning

"The transition has led to additional personnel costs needed to attract and retain personnel under the volunteer system, diverting funds from foreign and indigenous acquisition programs, as well as near-term training and readiness."

The US report also noted that Taiwan military spending has dropped to approximately 2 per cent of GDP, a sharp contrast to the other side of the Taiwan Strait as China's official defence budget has grown to roughly 10 times that of Taiwan's.

Recognising China's continued growth in military spending, Taiwan is working to integrate innovative and asymmetric measures into its defence planning in order to counter-balance China's growing capabilities, the report said.

The report reiterates the US' long-standing policy of supporting the peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides

"United States policy opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by either side."

In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), since 2010, the US has announced more than US$12 billion (S$15.9 billion) in arms sales to Taiwan to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait by providing defence articles and services for Taiwan to "maintain a sufficient self-defence capability."

Meanwhile, the same report also warned that China is engaged in an extensive land reclamation effort at five of its outposts in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.

As of late December 2014, China had reclaimed about 500 acres of land as part of this effort.

Asked to comment on the decline of Taiwan's defence budget, military spokesman Luo Shao-ho yesterday stressed the R.O.C. Armed Forces' resolution to defend the nation despite failing to meet its pre-set goal of increasing the defence budget to 3 per cent of GDP.

Luo said the Executive Yuan has promised to allocate a larger percentage of the budget from the emergency reserve to the military when needed, in case a new arms-procurement deal is announced.

The Cabinet's pledge shows the nation's determination to maintain its defence capability despite a bleak economic outlook globally, he said.