Since she took office in May, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen has made it clear there are changes in store for Taipei’s foreign policy. The question has been how extensive they will be, and whether they would involve openly splitting from mainland China. Ing-wen has so far steered a careful course towards a marginally more hawkish position, as this latest South China Morning Post report makes clear:
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen urged the island’s armed forces to change their culture and update their approach as the island carried out its annual military exercises.
She demanded that the island’s defence ministry submit a draft for the reforms by January.
“The challenges the military faces today come from two areas: limitations from outside and insufficiencies from inside,” Tsai told soldiers taking part in the four days of drills, known as the Han Kuang, in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan. “Every step the military takes should follow guidelines,” Tsai said.
Many experts agree that Taiwan’s military needs serious attention. Although Taiwan will never, on its own, be able to repel a full assault by China, in some areas the military is hobbled in more insidious ways. A former Taiwanese general quoted in the article explains:
“One of the characteristics of the [Taiwanese] army is, military leaders say something … their subordinates dare not say otherwise,” Lin said. “Sometimes subordinates even try to guess the top commander’s thinking, and do something to please him. That’s very dangerous.”
If this kind of institutional mindset is prevalent, even modest reforms will have measurable impacts on the armed forces’ readiness. But it’s going to take a lot more than this to make Taiwan a serious international player in the arena of East Asian hard power.