TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan will look to its domestic arms industry as well as foreign suppliers to respond to China’s continuing military buildup, but has no interest in engaging in an arms race with its cross-strait rival, the defense ministry said Tuesday.
The remarks from spokesman Chen Chung-ji came a day after China announced an 8.1 percent rise in its military budget for this year to 1.1 trillion yuan ($173 billion), the world’s second largest after the United States.
“Taiwan has no intention of getting involved in an arms race with China, or with neighboring countries,” Chen told reporters at a briefing. “However, we expect to strengthen our capabilities in self-developing arms, including locally built vessels and aircraft, or even information and communication warfare.”
China regards Taiwan as Chinese territory to be eventually brought under its control, by force if necessary.
Under China-imposed diplomatic isolation, Taiwan has few avenues for purchasing arms abroad apart from the United States, which despite only having unofficial ties with the self-governing island democracy, is legally bound to ensure it has a credible defense.
Under President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan has also sought to reinvigorate its domestic arms industry including in building trainer aircraft and possibly ships and submarines.
Such foreign and domestic weapon systems aimed to “satisfy the needs of defensive warfare, and assure the security of Taiwan, as well as to maintain regional stability and peace,” Chen said.
With the world’s largest standing military of between 2 million and 2.3 million members, China is preparing to launch its second aircraft carrier while integrating stealth fighters into its air force and fielding an array of advanced missiles able to attack air and sea targets at vast distances.
Taiwan’s armed forces are far smaller, although the island has universal conscription and a pool of reserves nearly 3 million strong. Its commanders have sought to capitalize on the physical barrier posed by the 160-kilometer (100-mile) -wide Taiwan Strait to fend off a possible Chinese attack.
As part of a pressure campaign against Tsai, China has sent bombers and fighter planes to fly around Taiwan and sailed its sole operating aircraft carrier through the strait with its battle group. China’s missile arsenal is also considered a key component in any assault, able to overwhelm Taiwan’s air defenses by sheer force of numbers.