Former US official urges Taiwan to strengthen defense investment

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Taiwanese F-16 mid-flight (CNA photo)

By Central News Agency

A former US defense official has said he sees a growing risk of military conflict between China and Taiwan, and he urged Taiwan to demonstrate a commitment to its own defense in order to justify US security guarantees.

Drew Thompson, who served as director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2018 and is now a visiting research fellow at the National University of Singapore, made the appeal Saturday during an interview with CNA. Thompson said Taiwan has faced growing military and political pressure from China for the last six years, which he ascribed to a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) force that is larger and better funded than ever before.

Many on the Chinese side, including the editor of the state-run Global Times newspaper, have also predicted an increased risk of war, he said, reflecting a calculation in Beijing that military force is now an option for resolving its issues with Taiwan. “I think the most important point is that (Chinese president) Xi Jinping now has a military option to invade Taiwan that his predecessors simply didn’t have,” Thompson said.

He described the PLA’s military capabilities as increasing “to the point where they could convince themselves that invasion is an option.” Asked whether the US would defend Taiwan in such an event, Thompson said the US has made a clear commitment to Taiwan, but that it would be unable to extend practical help if Taiwan was unable to “hold out on its own and fight from a position of strength.”

“Taiwan has to demonstrate its commitment to its own defense,” he said. “Otherwise, what’s the incentive” for the US to take on a tremendous amount of risk if Taiwan is not showing a similar degree of commitment? In that regard, Thompson said he believed it was a mistake for Taiwan to end its national conscription system, despite the program’s unpopularity.

Instead, he argued, it could have followed a model “more like Israel or Singapore, where national service is actually a great point of pride and a unifying force for society.”

Thompson was more supportive of the recent announcement of a US$1.81 billion US arms sale to Taiwan, which he said was important to see in the longer context of a US-Taiwan security relationship that encompasses arms sales, technology transfers, and personnel training.

A notable part of the latest deal is the 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles, which, he said, Taiwan has been seeking to buy for “five or six years.” Regarding the timing of the sale ahead of US elections on November 3, Thompson said political considerations were likely at play, but also said the administration of US president Donald Trump may be seeking to lock in the deal in case he loses to challenger Joe Biden, who may be less amenable to such sales.

According to Thompson, there is a “firm belief” among US officials and the current administration that the country should commit substantial assistance to Taiwan. “So, they’re acting on their principles,” he said.

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