Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is said to be prioritizing military spending in her policy platform for reelection, with a strategy to confront her rival – Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu from the opposition Kuomintang party – on key fronts, including defense and diplomacy, to woo voters in January.

It is said that Tsai’s team sees a white paper on the People’s Liberation Army, gazetted at the end of July by the Chinese Defense Ministry, as a “godsend” as Beijing renewed its threats of a “recapture.” Tsai is looking to garner more support as Beijing continues to instil fear in Taiwan’s people.

Titled “China’s National Defense in the New Era,” the white paper emphasizes the PLA’s capacity and resolve to “liberate” the self-ruled island and bring it back into Beijing’s fold.

Taiwanese newspapers have revealed that Tsai intends to allocate more money for the procurement of US weaponry and lobby the Pentagon to sell it more fighter jets on top of the latest F-16 deal being processed. Her bid is to beef up the island’s defenses by winning over more politicians and arms contractors in the US, which is bound by law to protect its unofficial ally through arms sales and the transfer of technology.

Tsai sits in the cockpit of an F-16V jet while inspecting an airbase. Photo: Handout

Tsai’s rival, Han, has little experience in defense or diplomacy. The KMT populist favored by Beijing has talked up the prospect of more amicable ties with the mainland and even a “peace treaty” with Beijing, if he is elected, and has warned of an imminent war if Tsai gets another four years.

But Tsai is unfazed.

One of Tsai’s top aides told the island’s Central News Agency that her take on the cross-strait statue quo had always been that despite the PLA’s posturing (sea and air circumnavigations), Beijing is unlikely to start a war, now that it is entangled in an escalating trade conflict with the US and struggling to cope with a faltering economy and unrest in Hong Kong.

“Xi Jinping wants to take back Taiwan and leave a shining legacy of reuniting the Chinese territory, but he is bogged down by a host of other more pressing challenges and he has to at least postpone a war against Taiwan,” said the aide.

“Besides, he has not promised any kind of timetable or need to face any elections to deliver his promise [regarding Taiwan], and he can simply take his time now that he is ‘China’s president for life’, as long as Tsai refrains from declaring full independence, and the latter has no intention to do so in the next four years.”

Due to the obvious mismatch in size, the Taiwanese army has been employing a “hedgehog” strategy to deter the PLA from invading. But Tsai’s upcoming reelection platform will put more emphsasis on planning, researching and developing asymmetric “offset” tactics and weapons.

Still, the army and Taiwan’s domestic defense contractors have been prodding Tsai to allocate more money and talent for the development and manufacturing of indigenous assets including missiles, radars and attack speedboats.

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