Taiwan has unveiled a record NT$471.7 billion (US$16.8 billion) defence budget for next year, as the democratic island comes under growing pressure and military intimidation from Beijing.
The spending boost “to strengthen our national security” includes a special budget of NT$40.1 billion for new warplanes, cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said on Thursday, without giving further details of the aircraft.
Taiwan is seeking to bolster the island’s defences against increasing threats from the People’s Liberation Army, which has stepped up drills near the island, including sending warplanes into its air defence identification zone as tensions rise across the strait. Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory and has not renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
But while President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet approved the island’s biggest defence budget yet on Thursday, the increase of NT$23.3 billion – or 5.2 per cent – for the year starting in January marks modest growth from 2021.
Taiwan’s military spending will account for 15.7 per cent of the government’s overall budget of NT$2.26 trillion for next year, and it represents about 2.1 per cent of the island’s GDP forecast for 2022. That is still well short of the 3 per cent target set by Tsai as she seeks to modernise the island’s military.
The budget proposed by the defence ministry includes NT$59 billion for non-business operations, according to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics.
The defence budget – which still needs approval from parliament – makes no mention of the NT$200 billion in funding for missile development that the defence ministry was reportedly seeking.
Several Taiwanese media outlets have reported that the ministry proposed the special budget to boost missile manufacturing by its top weapons maker, the National Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.
The funds would be used to mass-produce missiles with precision and long-range capabilities, Taipei Times reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources.
It comes as Washington – the island’s biggest arms supplier and unofficial ally – has been pushing Taipei to increase its defence budget and buy more weapons from the US to counter growing military threats from Beijing.
Taiwan’s defence ministry has not released details of the weapons or warplanes it plans to buy from the United States. But the State Department in November said the US had agreed to sell Taiwan four MQ-9B unmanned aerial vehicles, related equipment and personnel training worth US$600 million.
The island’s navy also sought to add a last-minute request for anti-submarine warfare helicopters to the budget before it was finalised by cabinet, according to Taiwan News.
The website reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter, that the navy was planning to buy 10 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters along with advanced sonar and avionics systems, MK 54 or MK 50 torpedoes, Hellfire missiles, laser-guided rockets, and machine guns.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, has described the MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters as being essential to Taiwan’s maritime security and an important addition for the island’s navy.
Tensions have been rising across the Taiwan Strait since Tsai was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle, with Beijing ramping up pressure on the self-governing island, including by suspending official exchanges, staging live-fire drills close by, and poaching its diplomatic allies. Taiwan and the United States have meanwhile moved closer in recent years, further angering Beijing.