The Kuomintang’s Security Policy and Taiwan’s 2008 Legislative and Presidential Elections

Publication: China Brief Volume: 7 Issue: 23

With Taiwan’s 2008 Legislative Yuan (LY) election in January and the presidential elections following in March, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has unveiled a security policy platform that reveals a notable degree of convergence with the policy preferences of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The defense policy white paper the KMT released in September 2007 and the foreign policy document it issued in November emphasize strengthening Taiwan’s defense posture and stabilizing cross-Strait relations. The KMT security strategy presented in these documents is surprisingly similar to the DPP’s approach in certain respects. Most notably the defense white paper emphasizes the KMT’s support for increasing defense spending to at least 3 percent of GDP, which is consistent with President Chen’s most recent request for a higher level of military spending. Nonetheless, the content of the KMT’s defense and foreign policy white papers and subsequent commentaries made by KMT politicians and defense analysts also reveal some key differences between the security strategies of the two parties. At the strategic level, the KMT appears to place much greater emphasis on a conciliatory approach toward China and a moderation of Taiwan’s approach to cross-Strait relations. The KMT and DPP also have differences on some key defense strategy issues. In particular, many KMT defense policy analysts have opposed President Chen’s plans to deploy missiles capable of striking key targets in mainland China, and KMT legislators recently blocked some of the funding for the program (Reuters, October 18). In analyzing the KMT’s security policy, of course, it is important to keep in mind that its defense and foreign policy white papers reflect not only the party’s security policy preferences, but also its strategy for defeating the DPP in the two 2008 elections.

The KMT’s Security Policy

The KMT has presented its vision for Taiwan’s national security in a series of white papers, speeches and statements over the course of the past year, culminating in the release of two key policy documents in the months preceding Taiwan’s 2008 elections. In September 2007, the released a defense policy white paper entitled “Defense White Paper of the KMT: A New Military for a Secure and Peaceful Taiwan” [1]. In November, the KMT followed that document with a foreign policy white paper entitled “A Flexible Diplomacy to Link Up with the World” [2]. The KMT’s security strategy conceives of national defense as a combination of military, political, diplomatic and economic considerations. Within this broad national security policy framework, KMT-affiliated analysts recognize the threat posed by China’s growing military capabilities, but they appear convinced that their party can reduce the risk of conflict through economic cooperation and manage cross-Strait relations well enough to avoid any confrontation with Beijing. Prominent KMT members have stated that they believe China would only use force in response to a declaration of independence by Taiwan. According to former KMT Chairman Lien Chan, “a claim of de jure independence by DPP government would force the PRC’s hand to use military force against Taiwan…no PRC leader would dare run the political risk of letting Taiwan declare formally independence without trying a military solution” [3]. Nonetheless, many in the KMT appear to regard conflict as unlikely so long as Taipei does not take any overly provocative steps toward formal separation from China. From their point of view, the greatest threat is not so much China’s growing military power as it is the tendency of President Chen and other DPP politicians to take steps toward formal independence that risk angering China and alienating the United States.

Many KMT officials emphasize what they characterize as major differences in the grand strategies preferred by the DPP and the KMT, pointing out that the KMT favors stable cross-Strait relations and closer economic cooperation with China As part of its electoral strategy, the KMT portrays President Chen’s uncompromising pro-independence stance as a threat to cross-Strait stability and U.S.-Taiwan relations. In a 2006 speech, for example, Lien Chan stated, “the DPP’s lurching toward de jure independence could lead to an unnecessary conflict in the Taiwan Strait into which the United States might inadvertently get dragged” [4]. Along these same lines, KMT politicians have also accused President Chen of undermining Taiwan’s security by mismanaging relations with the United States [5]. Moreover, KMT politicians argue that the DPP’s approach to cross-Strait relations has troubling implications for defense policy and the defense budget. Specifically, they argue that because moving further toward independence could increase tension and even cause war, this strategy would mean having to spend much more on defense to prepare for a future conflict with China. Some KMT politicians have argued that Taiwan simply does not have the money needed to afford such a high level of defense spending. They assert that the DPP’s grand strategy cannot deal with this contradiction between provocative behavior toward China and lack of resources to support high levels of military spending. Moreover, they assert that the DPP’s grand strategy, which they portray as reflecting President Chen’s determination to move further toward formal independence despite the risk of provoking China, also undermines relations with the United States, which further diminishes Taiwan’s security.

The KMT’s security strategy holds that economic growth and constructive relations with the mainland should be Taiwan’s top priorities and that it is more capable than the DPP when it comes to delivering the economic goods and maintaining a stable relationship with China [6]. Moreover, some KMT officials suggest that stable cross-Strait relations would allow Taiwan to spend less on defense without diminishing its security. The KMT also favors negotiations with China and an interim agreement that would promote stable cross-Strait relations. In October 2006, Ma Ying-jeou proposed a cross-Strait peace agreement under which Taiwan would pledge not to declare independence and China would promise not to use force. The proposed peace agreement does not specifically address China’s goal of unification, but many Pan-Green politicians have derided Ma’s approach as tantamount to surrender on China’s terms. According to KMT politicians, however, such an agreement is the best way to ensure Taiwan’s security (China Times, October 27, 2006).

Even as the KMT’s security strategy emphasizes improving relations with China, the party is also trying to appeal to moderate voters, in part by moving away from its traditional image as a party dominated by mainlanders who favor reunification with China. Despite its traditional emphasis on unification, the KMT has attempted to shift toward the center of Taiwan’s political spectrum by adopting a vision for the future that centers on maintaining the status quo. KMT Vice Presidential Candidate Vincent Siew recently defined this strategy as “no unification, no independence, and no use of force,” a statement that was reinforced by Ma Ying-jeou during his recent trip to Japan [7]. Indeed, the KMT has deemphasized unification, indicating that it is a possibility only in the long-term, when China has democratized, become more economically developed and demonstrated greater respect for human rights. The KMT has also emphasized that no deal with China would be possible without the approval of the people of Taiwan [8]. In addition, prominent KMT politicians have indicated that more specific preconditions would need to be met prior to unification talks with China. In November 2005, for example, Ma Ying-jeou stated that unification talks would become possible only if Beijing reverses its verdict on the Tiananmen Square incident (Associated Press, November 2, 2005). More recently, Ma added another precondition for talks, demanding that the PRC withdraw the more than 900 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) it has deployed opposite Taiwan prior to any resumption of negotiations or signing of a peace accord (Taipei Times, June 5). Perhaps the most dramatic shift of all, however, is that the KMT has even suggested independence need not be ruled out entirely in the long-term. In February 2006 the KMT ran a newspaper ad entitled “Taiwan’s Pragmatic Path,” which stated that the only acceptable short-term option was maintaining the status quo; the ad also stated, however, that there could be several options for Taiwan’s future status, including unification, independence, or maintaining the status quo indefinitely.

As for its defense policy, the KMT emphasizes the need to improve Taiwan’s defense capabilities, but advocates a somewhat different tack than the DPP has taken under the Chen administration, especially with regard to the development of missiles capable of striking targets in China. The KMT’s defense policy white paper dubs this new approach the “Hard ROC” defense strategy. The “Hard ROC” approach entails improving Taiwan’s capacity to withstand a sudden strike and raising the price Beijing would have to pay in order to occupy the island. It also emphasizes winning the first battle and disrupting the PLA’s tempo of operations to prevent China from achieving the type of rapid, decisive victory discussed in Chinese doctrinal publications, thus gaining more time for international intervention. According to the white paper:

“We will harden up our defense to an extent that is unshakable with our high morale, undefeatable by blockade, unoccupiable under invasion, and uncrackable with our sustained resistance. When a war is unavoidable, we will effectively use our advantages in force, space and timing. We will attempt to win the first stage of conflict through rapid employment of forces, disturbing the enemy’s tempo of operations, and gain more time for international assistance.”

The ultimate objectives of the strategy are to deter Chinese leaders from risking an attack on Taiwan by reducing their confidence in China’s ability to rapidly defeat Taiwan’s armed forces and blunting a Chinese attack if deterrence fails. The KMT’s white paper states that this strategy requires improving readiness and enhancing survivability, building a “lean and strong military,” improving training and exercises, and enhancing professionalism [9]. Another key component of the approach is moving toward an all-volunteer system, which the KMT defense white paper stipulates will require providing incentives such as educational assistance and higher salaries to help recruit and retain qualified military personnel. The white paper also underscores the importance of acquiring advanced armaments from abroad and strengthening Taiwan’s own military research and development capabilities. In addition, it proposes “rationalizing the defense budget” by raising defense spending to at least 3 percent of GDP and reallocating defense spending so that 40 percent will be devoted to personnel and 30 percent each to operations and military investment. Finally, the white paper proposes the establishment of cross-Strait confidence-building measures (CBMs) and pledges that the KMT will not develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

Similarites with the DPP’s Security Strategy

The KMT’s overall strategy is similar to what the DPP has proposed in many respects. For instance, DPP-affiliated anlaysts have proposed a variety of CBMs as well. Moreover, President Chen has also pledged that Taiwan will refrain from developing nuclear weapons. Perhaps most surprisingly, however, especially given the prolonged and highly acrimonious debate over the unprecedented arms sales package that Washington approved in April 2001, the KMT’s defense strategy also appears to share some common ground with the DPP’s preferred approach when it comes to determining the appropriate level of defense spending. Specifically, both parties support raising defense spending to at least 3 percent of GDP. The KMT and DPP also both favor improving Taiwan’s defense industrial capabilities. In addition, both parties support making the transition to an all-volunteer military service system to enhance the professionalism and operational capability of Taiwan’s armed forces.

Differences between the KMT and DPP Approaches

Despite this apparent convergence in some important areas, however, the KMT and DPP still disagree on a number of defense policy issues. In particular, many KMT defense analysts are skeptical of the Chen administration’s plans to develop missiles capable of hitting targets in the PRC. DPP national security policy analysts favor developing missiles capable of striking important military targets in China to bolster deterrence. They also argue that the missiles would enable Taiwan’s armed forces to disrupt Chinese military operations in the event of an attack on Taiwan. Many of the KMT’s defense policy analysts oppose the DPP’s plans to develop and deploy missiles capable of striking mainland China. For example, in an October 2007 interview with Chien-tuan K’o-chi [Defense Technology Monthly], legislator and KMT defense policy advisor Shuai Hua-min raised doubts about the deterrent value of conventionally armed missiles capable of striking targets in China, especially given the limited damage they would inflict and China’s overwhelming superiority in surface-to-surface missiles. “Today we are investing in medium-range missiles, but we don’t have nuclear warheads, so the deterrent effect cannot be realized,” Shuai said. “Besides if you fire one missile, he will fire 100” (Chien-tuan K’o-chi, October 2007). In addition to questioning Taiwan’s ability to deter China by threatening to launch conventional missile attacks at targets on the mainland, some KMT-affiliated analysts have expressed concerns that even retaliatory missile strikes could diminish Taiwan’s ability to hold onto the “moral high ground” following a Chinese attack and reduce the prospects of gaining U.S. and Japanese political and military support [10].

It is important to note that there are differences of opinion within the KMT camp on a number of key issues as well. Although some KMT politicians have opposed the acquisition of submarines, for example, others are much more favorably disposed. Legislator Shuai, a strong supporter of acquiring submarines, argues that they would strengthen Taiwan’s ability to deter China by allowing the navy to threaten Chinese shipping lanes (Chien-tuan K’o-chi, October 2007). In addition, there appears to be some disagreement within the KMT camp on the best way to accomplish the transition to an all-volunteer military.

The KMT’s Security Policy as Part of its Electoral Strategy and Diplomacy

It is also worth keeping in mind that the KMT’s security policy is an important component of the party’s electoral strategy and a key element of its diplomacy. With regard to the legislative and presidential election campaigns, the KMT seeks to present itself to Taiwan’s voters as the party that is most capable of successfully managing cross-Strait relations, promoting economic growth, providing for a strong defense, and strengthening relations with the United States. The KMT also seeks to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independence and to refute the DPP’s charges that it is “soft on China.”

Beyond these electoral considerations, the KMT’s security policy statements also have an external audience. In particular, the defense and foreign policy white papers are part of the KMT’s campaign promise to improve Taiwan’s relationship with the United States, which has suffered in recent years as a result of the protracted defense spending debate that ensued following Washington’s offer of an unprecedented arms sales package in April 2001. As well as a series of actions that President Chen’s critics have characterized as attempts to challenge the cross-Strait status quo, such as his recent decision to hold a referendum on applying for United Nations (UN) membership under the name “Taiwan” alongside the March 2008 presidential election. Indeed, in a November 2007 speech on the KMT’s foreign policy white paper, Ma emphasized the need to “rebuild trust between Taipei and Washington” in the wake of strong U.S. criticism of President Chen’s plan for the referendum on joining the UN under the name “Taiwan” (China Post, November 21).

Conclusion

The rival political camps in Taiwan actually have much in common, and further convergence between their policy positions is likely as the island moves toward a two-party political system, which will further diminish the influence of the smaller parties—most notably the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the pro-unification People First Party (PFP). At the same time, however, the major parties will continue to have sharp differences on several critical defense policy issues, as reflected by their contrasting views on the deterrent value, operational utility and potential diplomatic consequences of developing and deploying missiles capable of striking targets on the mainland. Consequently, the results of the upcoming elections will have a major influence on the course of Taiwan’s national security and defense policy debates over the next few years.

If the KMT wins the presidential election and retains the majority in the legislature, it will be in a strong position to advance its national security policy agenda. On the other hand, if the KMT maintains control of the legislature but DPP candidate Frank Hsieh wins the presidential election, the KMT should work with the DPP to reach a bipartisan consensus that would allow Taiwan to move forward on key defense and national security policy issues. Indeed, the continuation of a divided government would make it imperative that the two parties find ways to craft the types of compromises that have proven so elusive in recent years. Otherwise, Taiwan may find itself mired in political gridlock yet again. That would be an outcome both parties should do their utmost to avoid, especially given the urgency of the defense and national security challenges Taiwan currently faces.

Notes

1. Ma Ying-jeou Office, “Defense White Paper of the KMT: A New Military for a Secure and Peaceful Taiwan,” September 2, 2007,

http://www.kmtnews.net/client/eng/NewsArtical.php?REFDOCID=00am798zw22204m5&TYPIDJump=00air79hymmrtyl0.

2. Ma Ying-jeou Office, “A Flexible Diplomacy to Link Up with the World,” November 20, 2007, http://www.kuomintangnews.org/client/eng/NewsArtical.php?REFDOCID=00aod256r4osj2uq&TYPIDJump=00air79hymmrtyl0.

3. Lien Chan, “China’s Rise and Peace and Development in East Asia,” speech at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Chicago, October 31, 2006, http://old.npf.org.tw/Symposium/s95/951102-3.htm.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid. In Lien’s words, “in the past several years, the Bush administration has had to closely monitor the actions of the DPP government and constantly warn it against recklessness. As a result, Taiwan’s relationship with the US, its ultimate security guarantor, has suffered.”

6. See, for example, Ma Ying-jeou, “Peace and Prosperity in the Taiwan Strait: Building a New Vision,” speech at the Taiwan Studies Workshop, Harvard Fairbank Center, Cambridge, March 21, 2006, and Ma Ying-jeou, “Taiwan’s Role in Peace and Stability in East Asia,” speech at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., March 23, 2006.

7. Vincent C. Siew, “Toward a Strong, Moderate and Positive Taiwan,” speech at the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, Washington, DC, October 5, 2007, http://www.kmtnews.net/client/eng/NewsArtical.php?REFDOCID=00an7g8cei1f7hpc&TYPIDJump=00air79hymmrtyl0.

8. Ma Ying-jeou, “Bridging the Divide: A Vision for Peace in East Asia,” speech at the London School of Economics and Political Science, February 13, 2006.

9. “Defense White Paper of the KMT.”

10. Interviews, 2006-2007.