Taiwan defence report notes 'increased threat from China'

TAIPEI • China's accelerated military development and recent activity by its military aircraft and ships around Taiwan pose an increased threat to the self-ruled island, according to a Taiwanese government defence report draft reviewed by Reuters.

The 2017 Quadrennial Defence Review also highlights the uncertainty over the future strategic direction of the United States in the region, the impact of Japan flexing its military capabilities and "conflict crisis" potential in the disputed South China Sea.

"The recent activity of Chinese jets and ships around Taiwan shows the continued rise in (China's) military threat capabilities," highlighting the importance of Taiwan's need to defend itself, the review will say. Besides posing a military threat to Taiwan, it also has a negative impact on regional stability, it says.

The document is due to be presented to Parliament today by Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan. The Defence Ministry had no comment on the report yesterday.

The four-yearly review is the first since President Tsai Ing-wen took office last May and the first under her Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally advocates independence for Taiwan.

Taiwan's military development and its "freedom and prosperity are the same living body", according to the draft.

The review comes as China - which claims Taiwan as its province to be taken back by force if necessary - has been stepping up air and sea military exercises in waters surrounding the island as part of a sweeping modernisation of its armed forces.

It also comes as new satellite images by private satellite company Planet Labs show that China has started fresh construction work in the disputed South China Sea. An image of North Island in the Paracels group taken on March 6 shows recent work including land clearing and possible preparation for a harbour to support what experts believe may be eventual military installations.

Developments in the South China Sea, including rejection of an international court ruling by other claimants on territorial rights of the Philippines in the disputed waters, China's land reclamation and militarisation, and freedom of navigation patrols championed by the US, could deepen strife in the area, the review will say. "Sovereignty disputes in the region and strategic competition could intensify, leading to hidden conflict crisis."

The review also lists Japan's move away from its pacifist Constitution "to strengthen its armaments and lift a ban on using troops abroad" as having deep and far-reaching impact on the security situation in the Asia-Pacific and the Taiwan Strait.

Reuters reported earlier this week that Japan plans to send its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May - its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War II.

Among security challenges for Taiwan, the review also says the US' "Asia-Pacific strategic direction and troop deployment was not clear" under the new administration of President Donald Trump.

He provoked consternation in Beijing by taking a congratulatory call from Ms Tsai and then calling into question adherence to the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Last month, however, Mr Trump agreed to honour the policy during a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The US remains Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier and is bound by legislation to provide the means to help the island defend itself.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan defence report notes 'increased threat from China''. Print Edition | Subscribe