The Democratic Progressive Party’s Defense Policy Blue Papers and the Opposition’s Vision for Taiwan’s National Defense

Publication: China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 17

The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) “Defense Policy Blue Paper,” could not have come out at a more opportune time for Taiwan’s main opposition party. Less than a month after its June 6 publication, Taiwan’s defense establishment was thrown into turmoil by the death of Corporal Hung Chung-Chiu, allegedly after abuse by his superiors. The ensuing controversy and protests, with estimated turnouts of tens of thousands of people, led to the resignation of two defense ministers in less than a week, presenting the DPP with an opening to criticize President Ma Ying-Jeou’s handling of defense issues. The blue paper, a series of four documents prepared by the DPP’s New Frontier Foundation, gave Chairman Su Tseng-Chang ammunition for speeches stressing the party’s defense credentials to the Taiwan public and the United States.

When Su spoke about the Hung case, he highlighted the “New Three Faiths” (xin san xinxin), a formulation drawn from the blue paper that would update and modify the army’s existing “Three Faiths,” which tells soldiers to show loyalty to superiors, trust in subordinates and confidence in themselves as responsible, disciplined soldiers (Taipei Times, August 8). The new three faiths  shift the emphasis to the army’s external connections, stressing the goals of inspiring confidence in members of the armed forces, trust in national defense and reassurance among Taiwan’s international partners.

The series of papers, which the New Frontier Foundation refers to collectively as the DPP’s “Defense Policy Blue Paper,” [1] represents not only the DPP’s critique of President Ma’s approach to Taiwan’s national defense (for an independent critique, see Kevin McCauley’s June 7, 2013 China Brief article), but also its vision of the defense policy the party would attempt to implement if its candidate wins Taiwan’s next presidential election in 2016.

The blueprint is important not only as an outline of the DPP’s defense policy, but also as an indicator of its attempts to strengthen its appeal domestically and internationally in advance of the 2016 presidential election. The DPP’s policy blueprint clearly suggests some differences with the ruling KMT on national defense issues and it is explicitly critical of aspects of President Ma’s approach, especially Taiwan’s current level of defense spending, which is well below Ma’s own goal of three percent of the island’s GDP. At the same time, however, the DPP’s policy papers reflect a number of broad similarities between the two parties and suggest some areas of potential common ground. What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the blueprint, however, is that is appears to represent an effort to position the DPP as a party that is strong on national defense issues and a viable alternative to the KMT. The papers appear to represent part of the DPP’s broader attempt to ensure that it will appeal not only to the voters who will decide its fate in upcoming elections, but also to policymakers and opinion leaders in the United States, which remains an essential source of political and military backing for Taiwan even in an era of unprecedentedly stable and constructive cross-Strait relations.

The DPP’s Blueprint for National Defense

In comments it issued marking the release of the documents, the DPP highlighted the work of the New Frontier Foundation’s Defense Policy Advisory Committee. The team responsible for producing the documents conducted more than a dozen meetings to gather insights and opinions from a broad range of military experts, including members of the Legislative Yuan (LY), former government officials, defense policy researchers and more than 30 retired general officers. DPP Chair Su Tseng-chang, who serves concurrently as President of the New Frontier Foundation, also highlighted the importance of the documents as a reflection of the DPP’s attention to national defense issues. “This is the first time since the party’s founding in which we have a dedicated unit to research on national defense,” Su said. “Today, we are issuing four blueprints to show that the DPP is taking concrete actions to value Taiwan’s national defense and its military.”

The DPP’s defense policy blueprint is composed of four separate papers: (1) DPP’s National Defense Agenda; (2) Transforming the CSIST: Strengthening Indigenous Defense Research and Development (CSIST refers to the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, the organization with primary responsibility for defense research and development in Taiwan); (3) An Accountable National Security Council; and (4) New Chapter for the Taiwan-U.S. Defense Partnership. [2]

The first paper, DPP’s National Defense Agenda, provides a broad overview of the DPP’s defense policy. The paper highlights “a common misconception that, if our external environment has improved, Taiwan does not need to spend so much money on national defense.” The paper cautions that this assertion is problematic, and states that Taiwan’s national defense “reflects the existence of Taiwan as a sovereign state, the determination of our society to defend itself, and the responsibility of all citizens to share the burden of national defense.” Furthermore, it cautions, “Letting sovereignty slip away often starts with national defense being overlooked. Thus any leader in Taiwan must clearly recognize the value of our national defense and lead the society and the people in building self-defense consciousness.” [3] To strengthen Taiwan’s national defense, the paper offers a number of recommendations, including:

· Increasing defense spending to three percent of Taiwan’s GDP;
· Enhancing indigenous defense research and development capabilities (the main focus of the second of the four policy papers);
· Prioritizing information warfare, battlefield awareness, crisis response, infrastructure protection and joint operations capabilities;
· Accelerating weapon acquisition procedures and initiating a series of “leap-forward” modernization programs;
· Increasing the frequency of training and exercises;
· Deepening strategic dialogue, intelligence exchange and technology cooperation with other democracies;
· Working with other political parties to seek mutually agreeable solutions for the problems associated with Taiwan’s transition to a voluntary military service system;
· Strengthening the military’s capabilities for non-combat operations, such as disaster relief, epidemic prevention and fishing protection; and
· Emphasizing further organizational and institutional improvements to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of Taiwan’s national security and defense agencies.

The paper provides at least somewhat more detailed proposals in many of these areas. For example, with respect to Taiwan’s defense budget, the paper warns that a deficient defense budget “has already seriously affected military acquisition and readiness,” and calls on the Ma administration to “increase the defense budget at once.” The paper promises that when the DPP returns to power, it will work to raise the defense budget to three percent of Taiwan’s GDP and “significantly increase acquisition expenditure.” [4]

The second paper, Transforming the CSIST: Strengthening Indigenous Defense Research and Development, articulates the DPP’s vision for the organizational transformation of CSIST. The paper states that the DPP has long advocated attempts to “actively strengthen [Taiwan’s] defense science and technology (S&T) for indigenous weaponry research and development (R&D).” According to the paper, this is now more important than ever, because of growing Chinese pressure to halt or at least limit foreign arms sales to Taiwan. As the authors put it, “Foreign acquisition will become more difficult after the rise of China,” and this places a premium on strengthening indigenous defense R&D. Consequently, according to the paper, “The need for indigenous weaponry R&D will further elevate the significances of the CSIST.”

To respond to the challenge posed by China’s vehement opposition to any foreign arms sales to Taiwan, the authors of the paper recommend that CSIST should spin-off its dual-use technology and engage in commercial markets to obtain more funding for its operations. At the same time, however, they indicate this must not risk of diluting CSIST’s focus on its core mission: defense research and development. Accordingly, CSIST should also concentrate on integrating S&T advances from the civilian sector and capitalizing on “spin-on” opportunities to improve its capacity for advanced weaponry R&D. Furthermore, the paper argues that at least three percent of the annual defense budget should be allocated to science and technology development. In addition, the paper urges that even after the reorganization of CSIST, it should still maintain a close relationship with the MND. Specifically, according to the paper, the MND “should effectively guide the CSIST” to ensure its focus on “fulfilling its core national defense missions.”

The third paper, An Accountable National Security Council, proposes a number of reforms to correct what it characterizes as a lack of accountability, inadequate legislative supervision, functional shortcomings such as problems with interagency coordination. According to the paper, “bold reform is needed” to effectively cope with the challenges Taiwan faces in an increasingly complex security environment. The report offers recommendations that are intended to optimize the organization of the NSC and strengthen its ability to make, coordinate, integrate and implement Taiwan’s national security policy. For example, the paper calls for Taiwan’s NSC to produce a report on Taiwan’s national security strategy within six months after every presidential election. The paper also proposes that the NSC “by law, should be under the supervision of the Legislative Yuan,” and that the NSC Secretary General should be required to “report to the legislature and be questioned by legislators” about the conclusions of NSC meetings and “vital policy decisions.” The paper indicates that this initiative is required “to demonstrate accountability in [Taiwan’s] democratic system.”

 The fourth paper, New Chapter for the Taiwan-U.S. Defense Partnership, reviews the U.S-Taiwan security relationship in the context of the U.S. “rebalance.” The paper highlights Taiwan’s security relationship with the United States as “one of the backbones of [Taiwan’s] national security.” Furthermore, it states that the U.S.-Taiwan partnership “should be regarded as a crucial asset in the U.S. pivot strategy.” The paper also calls for increased U.S. arms sales to Taiwan to balance China’s growing military capabilities. In addition, it emphasizes the importance of “non-hardware” cooperation between the two sides. Specific recommendations include strengthening high-level security dialogues, expanding U.S. training programs for Taiwanese military personnel and stepping up cyber security cooperation.

Assessing the Implications for Taiwan’s Defense Policy and U.S.-Taiwan Relations

The DPP’s defense policy blueprint appears to reflect some differences between the two parties, and it explicitly criticizes aspects of the KMT’s defense policy, such as the current level of the defense budget and the problems encountered in the transition to an all-volunteer military. [5] Yet there are some notable similarities between the DPP’s preferred approach and the current defense policy of President Ma Ying-jeou. For example, the defense policy blueprint stresses encouraging innovation and states that Taiwan needs to develop asymmetric weapons as well as “novel and alternative ideas” for the defense of Taiwan. This appears to track very closely with the MND’s current emphasis on “innovative and asymmetric approaches” to Taiwan’s defense. Moreover, the blue papers call for a bipartisan approach to national defense issues. For example, the first paper, DPP’s Defense Agenda, calls for bipartisan cooperation that goes “beyond the parochial interests of any political party.” Along similar lines, when commenting on the release of the defense policy reports, DPP Chair Su emphasized that national defense should be a bipartisan undertaking and that defense policy should rise above the narrow interests of any political party.

More broadly, the DPP’s defense policy blue papers should be seen as aimed at serving several purposes, including building its image as a responsible opposition party that advances thoughtful critiques of ruling party policies, refining its thinking about defense policy issues in advance of the 2016 presidential campaign, differentiating its approach from that of the KMT and persuading voters in Taiwan that it is more capable of ensuring Taiwan’s national defense than the ruling party, and convincing U.S. officials and analysts that the DPP is serious about defense and has a vision it can translate into action if it regains the presidency in 2016.

The DPP clearly attaches considerable importance to all of these objectives. Assuming that most voters in Taiwan will make their decisions on the basis of economic and domestic policy issues rather than defense policy, however, perhaps one of the DPP’s most important aims in emphasizing its national defense credentials is to serve its broader effort to strengthen its image and improve its relations with analysts and officials in the United States. [6] Accordingly, it was not surprising that national defense was one of several important themes DPP Chair Su Tseng-chang emphasized during his June 2013 visit to the United States, which included stops in Washington, DC and several other cities. [5] Speaking at the Brookings Institution during the visit, Su said: “In the past few years, the cross-strait military imbalance has become more serious, but Taiwan’s investment in defense is growing smaller. It is time for us to demonstrate that we are serious about our own defense. I would like to urge you to look at my track record again when I was serving as Taiwan’s Premier. Despite all difficulties, the defense budget reached 2.7% of GDP in 2007, and 3% in 2008.” Furthermore, Su stated that even though it is currently the opposition party, “the DPP is serious, and I am serious, about Taiwan’s defense. I guarantee you: the future DPP government will be fully committed to Taiwan’s self-defense.” [6]

Increasing the defense budget to a level sufficient to cover Taiwan’s transition to an all volunteer military, fully fund major force modernization initiatives and adequately support needed maintenance and training is clearly essential. The DPP’s proposal to increase defense spending to 3 percent of GDP is therefore likely to win praise from many observers in the United States as well as in Taiwan, but at the end of the day the exact percentage of GDP spent on national defense is a largely symbolic issue. Although the percentage of GDP devoted to defense has come to be seen as a reflection of the government’s commitment to Taiwan’s national defense, what is more important than the exact amount of money allocated to the defense budget is how wisely Taiwan spends its limited resources to strengthen its deterrence and defense capabilities. Charting a path forward will require not only creative thinking on the part of the KMT and DPP, but also a willingness to work together on national defense issues despite their political differences.


1.  See Democratic Progressive Party, “DPP’s Think Tank Announces Defense Policy Blue Paper,” June 6, 2013, < >.
2.  All four documents are available on the DPP’s website. The first document and the forwards of the other three documents are available in English translation, presumably reflecting the fact that they are intended at least in part for international readers, especially analysts and decision-makers in the United States.
3.  For an overview of President Ma’s major national defense policy initiatives, see Taiwan Quadrennial Defense Review 2013, Ministry of National Defense, 2013, < >; and National Defense Report Editing Committee, 2011 Republic of China National Defense Report, Ministry of National Defense, August 2011, < >.
4.  Underscoring the importance the DPP attaches to strengthening its relations with officials and analysts in the United States more broadly, the DPP recently opened a Washington, DC office. The DPP’s press release on the establishment of the party’s Washington, D.C. office indicated that it will operate under the official name of the Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party Mission in the United States. Dr. Joseph Wu, who serves as the Executive Director of the DPP’s Policy Research Committee, will also be the DPP Representative to Washington, DC, though he will continue to be based primarily in Taiwan. See Democratic Progressive Party, “DPP Inaugurates Washington, DC Office,” June 17, < >.
5.  For an overview of Su’s trip, see DPP Department of Foreign Affairs, Democracy and Progress, June, < >.
6.  For the full text of Su’s remarks, see Su Tseng-chang, “A New Partnership for a New Age: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Relations,” Speech at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, June 13, < >.