Taiwan plans military spending increase to counter rising China

Taiwan Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan (second from left) attends a parliamentary session at Legislative Yuan in Taipei, on March 16, 2017.
Taiwan Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan (second from left) attends a parliamentary session at Legislative Yuan in Taipei, on March 16, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) - Taiwan plans to raise its defence spending next year in an attempt to offset China's growing military might.

Defence spending is targeted to rise to 3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2018, up from about 2 per cent this year, Minister of National Defence Feng Shih-kuan told lawmakers in Taipei on Thursday (March 16).

Taiwan plans to develop indigenous ships, airplanes, weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of defence or offense, he said.

Taiwan's defence expenditures have declined since the 1980s, when Taiwan spent more than 5 per cent of GDP on its military, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Taiwan hasn't spent 3 per cent of GDP on the military since 1999, according to Sipri. 

Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said defense expenditures last exceeded 3 per cent in 2008.

"We hope for an increase to 3 per cent next year, but the government also needs to consider revenue and balance it among other ministries," Chen said.

The push comes amid growing tensions with Taiwan's one-time civil war rivals on the mainland over the pro-independence leanings of President Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party.

Since taking power last year, Tsai has refused to endorse the "One China" framework for continued talks, under which both sides agree they belong to the same country even if they have different interpretations.

China has poured money into a sweeping military modernisation effort in recent decades, giving it the ability to project force further from its coasts.

Taiwan remains a top focus of the People's Liberation Army, which continues to have some 1,200 missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait.

China considers the island a province that will eventually be united with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The US continues to sell weapons to Taiwan and is obligated to defend the island under a 1979 law.

Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday reiterated China's stance of opposing Taiwanese independence and seeking peaceful reunification. "We are one family," Li said.