U.S. Frigates Join Navy. More on the Way?
The Taiwan Navy took possession of two refurbished U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates on March 16 at a cost of around US$190 million. The two frigates are equipped with AN/SQR-19 Multi-Function Towed Array Sonar (TACTAS), a system for the long-range passive detection of enemy submarines which was previously prohibited for sale to Taiwan. The acquisitions hint at future arm sales, and Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has reportedly requested stealth fighters and F-16 upgrades from the United States to meet China’s growing military might. The government recently released its 2017 defense budget calling for US$11.4 billion in expenditures, equal to 2.05% of Taiwan’s GDP. The total represents only a 1% increase over last year’s budget, despite the Tsai administration’s promises to increase defense spending. Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan told lawmakers that “asymmetric warfare” techniques could provide effective and inexpensive defenses against the threat of invasion, but nevertheless hopes to see the budget increase to nearly 3% of GDP next year. China’s military budget rose this year by 7% to US$150 billion, second only to the United States.
Taiwan Universities Sign China Pledge
Revelations that as many as a third of Taiwan’s 152 universities have signed pledges to Beijing not to touch on politically sensitive topics with students enrolled from China have put a further strain on cross-Strait relations. A declining number of domestic students has caused many private universities to increase their reliance on foreign students, particularly those from China. “We are just saying to mainland Chinese students that our curriculum won’t touch on politically sensitive activities, and that we won’t carry out ‘one-China, one-Taiwan,’ ‘two-Chinas’ or Taiwan independence activities,” Liao Pei-an, head of public relations at Shih Hsin University, a private Taipei college, was quoted as saying in the press.
The issue has raised concerns about academic freedom and silent capitulation to Beijing. Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung said the authorities would seek to hammer out principles by which cross-Strait education exchanges could continue without suppressing academic freedom or violating national sovereignty.
Mou Signed for Building of Indigenous Submarines
As part of her aim to bolster national defense as well as spur economic and technological development, President Tsai Ing-wen witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding for construction of Taiwan’s first indigenous submarines. The agreement was inked in a March 21 ceremony at the Tsoying naval base in Kaohsiung between the MND and the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) and domestic shipbuilder CSBC Corp., Taiwan. It calls for the design and construction of Taiwan’s first locally made submarine within eight years, for commissioning into service within 10 years. CSBC will lead design and construction, while NCSIST will provide key technical support. The president said that building submarines is the most challenging aspect of strengthening self-reliance in national defense, but also a crucial step towards enhancing the island’s defenses.
The MOU follows an earlier agreement signed in February among the MND, NCSIST, and the Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. to develop supersonic jet trainers. The defense industry is one of five industries Tsai pledged would be a focus of her administration. The others are biotech (including pharmaceuticals), green energy, smart machinery, and the Internet of Things and other technologies enabling Taiwan to become an Asian Silicon Valley.
Japan Minister’s Visit Upsets China
The most senior Japanese government representative to visit Taiwan since Tokyo broke diplomatic relations some 45 years ago came to Taipei March 24-25 for a tourism event, and China is not happy. Deputy Minister Jiro Akama of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications stayed for only a single night. Nevertheless, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted in international media as accusing Japan of being “two-faced” and claiming that the visit “has caused serious disturbance to the improvement of Sino-Japanese ties.” Earlier this year China protested when Japan changed the name of its representative office in Taipei to include the word Taiwan.