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DEFENSE/Taiwan urged to speed up military reform, demonstrate self-defense ability

05/17/2024 08:48 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, May 17 (CNA) Taiwan should expedite its military reforms and send a clear message to China about what the costs of potential aggression would be, China expert Amanda Hsiao (蕭嫣然) told a panel discussion Friday, while noting the increasing challenge the country faces in responding to Chinese pressure.

"Taiwan needs to signal more clearly to China the costs of potential aggression," said Hsiao, a senior China analyst from the International Crisis Group, at the event in Taipei, noting that one aspect of that would be for the incoming government to "move much faster on defense reform."

While the current administration led by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has taken positive steps concerning the issue, "a lot more has to be done for Taiwan to really embrace an optimal defense strategy."

"There remains considerable debate within Taiwan's elite policy community [and] within society about what exactly is the threat from China and how we respond to it," she said.

"That debate has implications for defense reform," she said, adding that there was currently a lack of "consensus around what the best strategy is and how best to get there."

According to Hsiao, such signals are important given the fact that China's pressure on Taiwan has become more difficult to deal with and thus created "a new dilemma" for both Taiwan and the international community.

Beijing has shifted airline routes in the Taiwan Strait unilaterally, a decision that was frowned upon but "technically within the rules," Hsiao told the discussion that was focused on discussing Taiwan's new government led by President-elect Lai Ching-te (賴清德), who takes up the presidency on May 20.

She added that the same applied to the Chinese law enforcement's patrols around Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island, which Beijing claimed were conducted according to its law.

However, Chen Ming-chi (陳明祺), chief executive officer of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said such reforms would be "a big challenge" for the new government given the current dynamic in the Legislature.

The CEO of Taiwan's state-funded think tank was referring to the dominance of the opposition, namely the Kuomintang and the Taiwan People's Party, in the Legislature.

He expressed concern about the divergent approaches toward China by Taiwan's executive and legislative branches, fearing that this could "send a very mixed signal" regarding Taiwan's commitment to self-defense to its allies and partners.

Nevertheless, the panelists, including Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, remained optimistic about Taiwan's continued collaborations with its partners after Lai assumes office.

According to Kotani, Taiwan and Japan have been working closely on cybersecurity for a couple of years but such collaborations have been so far restricted to fighting cybercrime.

He encouraged the two sides to "upgrade" their cooperation and work together on bolstering cyber defense, particularly regarding tackling China's information operations.

The Japanese scholar also called for defense industrial cooperation.

He argued that even though it "is not so easy to do arms export[s]" with Taiwan immediately, "there should be some room for maneuver."

However, Kotani contended that Japan would not send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, noting that Japan's primary role would be to defend itself and the southwest island chain, from where the United States military would initiate operations.

"We believe our primary role in a possible Taiwan contingency scenario would be defending ourselves, and by doing so, we can indirectly contribute to the security of Taiwan," he added.

(By Teng Pei-ju)

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