TAIPEI • Taiwan yesterday unveiled an increase of NT$42.1 billion (S$1.98 billion) for next year’s planned defence spending, as China announced details of its latest combat drills near the self-ruled island it claims as its own.
China has stepped up its military activity near Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province.
On Monday, Taiwan said Chinese fighters briefly crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait, the same day US health chief Alex Azar met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei. China has denounced Mr Azar’s trip.
Ms Tsai’s Cabinet is proposing NT$453.4 billion in military spending for the year starting in January, versus the NT$411.3 billion budgeted for this year, up 10.2 per cent.
“The steady increase in the defence budget will facilitate the implementation of various military-building and war-preparation tasks… and ensure national security and regional peace and stability,” the Defence Ministry said.
About three hours after the budget announcement, China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said its forces had in recent days carried out combat drills in the Taiwan Strait and to the north and south of the island, implying they were aimed at Mr Azar’s visit this week.
“Recently, a certain large country has continued to make negative moves on Taiwan-related issues, sending serious wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces, and seriously threatening the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” it said in a statement.
“The theatre command’s organising of patrols and exercises are necessary actions taken in response to the current security situation across the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty.”
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the situation was normal and that people should not worry.
Ms Tsai has made modernising Taiwan’s armed forces and increasing defence spending a priority as her government seeks to offset China’s increasing military advantage over the democratic island.
The budget must be approved by lawmakers and is unlikely to be blocked as Ms Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party has a large majority in the legislature.
Taiwan Cabinet’s proposed military spending for the year beginning in January, up from NT$411.3 billion budgeted for this year.
Increase in proposed military spending for the year starting in January.
In an online event hosted by the Washington-based Hudson Institute on Wednesday, Ms Tsai called on the international community to speak out against Beijing.
“Our 23 million people have the right to determine our own futures, which is the antithesis of the approach Beijing has taken,” Ms Tsai said during the conference.
She also praised the United States and Britain for criticising China’s actions in the former British colony of Hong Kong, while calling on more nations to do so.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has denounced the US for arms sales to the island.
Washington is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
Taiwan is in discussions with the US to acquire sea mines to deter amphibious landings, as well as cruise missiles for coastal defence, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US said on Wednesday.
Last year, the US State Department approved arms sales worth US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) for Taiwan.
Taiwan’s military is well armed, but dwarfed by China’s.
“Taiwan authorities are spending their taxpayers’ money on defence, but no matter how much they spend on defence, Taiwan is still a small place. Confronting the mainland is like an ant trying to shake a tree,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.