Monday, December 19, 2005

Three Percent

In the last few days there has been a lot of discussion of increasing defense spending and what appears to be movement toward a real debate on the weapons systems offered for sale to Taiwan by the United States, which includes the eight diesel submarines, Patriot missiles, and anti-submarine aircraft.

Saturday, President Chen Shui-bian announced that he intended to see defense spending increased to three percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) by the time he leaves office in 2008.* That same day, Tseng Yung-chuan, the KMT's Party Whip, indicated the KMT may allow debate of the arms purchases requested by the Ministry of Defense if the administration increases defense spending to three percent of GDP. It is unclear which of these statements was made first.

The Pan Blues have been working their hardest to stall any initiative put forth by the administration. The obstruction recently reached the point where the Pan Greens asked the Blues to state their real position on the arms procurement rather than creating excuses to snipe Green proposals. That brought about Mr. Tseng's reply above. Lest one become optimistic and think the impasse is history, Mr. Tseng elaborated on the offer, saying that the Patriot missiles were off the table because in his view, they had been voted down in the 2004 referendum. The Pan Greens will surely disagree with that interpretation of the referendum.

KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung, a member of the KMT task force examining the arms procurement, further clarified:
All three of the major items must be carefully re-examined because the Patriot missile batteries have already been vetoed in the referendum, the submarines are way too expensive and the maritime patrol aircraft are definitely outdated.

If one thought the move to three percent might still hold the key to cooperation, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou offered a new spin on why the Blues have been obstructing the arms procurement (one really starts to wonder if they have a reason after the numerous changing explanations). The arms must be shown to be appropriate for Taiwan's defense needs and not simply a "cash-for-friendship" purchase. Ma claims this has been the Blue's reason for obstruction all along. I have long worried that the rationale for the purchase offered by Lee Teng-hui and others would come back to bite them and it appears to have done so.

*The ROC currently spends 2.4 percent of its GDP on defense. In comparison, the United States spends roughly 4 percent, when the appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan are included, and China spends as much as 4.3 percent depending on what is included and how it is calculated.

  • See Michael Turton's reply and David's comment.

  • Sun Bin criticizes the CIA statistic on Chinese defense spending cited above and is criticized in return by Dylan in the comments. The discussion is certainly worth a read.