Taiwan Sharply Boosts Defense Budget Amid China Tensions

August 15, 2019 Updated: August 15, 2019

TAIPEI—Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade on Aug. 15 amid rising military tensions with its giant neighbor China, which considers the self-ruled island its own.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet signed off on an 8.3 percent increase in military spending for the year starting January to T$411.3 billion ($13.11 billion), its largest yearly gain since 2008, according to Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics.

If approved by lawmakers, which is likely given the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) control of parliament, it will be the highest since records started in 2001, data from the statistics agency show. Tsai is also a DPP member.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be united with the mainland one day, with military force if necessary, despite the island having its own elected officials, constitution, military, and currency. In recent months, Beijing has escalated its rhetoric and conducted military exercises near Taiwan, in a show of muscle.

China warned in July it was ready for war if there was any move toward Taiwan’s independence and denounced arms sales from the United States to Taiwan, which is among a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.–China relationship, including a trade war and U.S. sanctions.

“To react to the enemy’s threat and to ensure national security, the defense budget continues to grow stably,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it will spend more to purchase advanced weapons from overseas and to build a fully volunteer force after decades of conscription.

China, which suspects Tsai of pushing for the island’s formal independence, has been ramping up military pressure on Taiwan, which includes encirclement drills around it and flying jets across a maritime border separating the two sides, a move Taipei called “provocative.”

The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan and approved in July sales of weapons estimated to be worth $2.2 billion to the democratic island. Washington has no formal ties with Taipei, but it is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.

Tsai is facing a re-election battle in January amid criticism over her reform agenda as Beijing steps up efforts to squeeze Taiwan, including a tourism ban for Chinese visitors to the island.

By Yimou Lee