Is Taiwan Really Buying the ‘Wrong’ Weapons? – The Diplomat

Few were surprised when Taiwan’s presidential election resulted in the return of the America-friendly Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen this January. As expected, Tsai’s tough stand on the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty was a winner, with the Hong Kong extradition protests serving as a timely warning of the dangers of the “one country two systems” model Beijing wants to impose on Taiwan. The strong election result was hence expected to bring continuity to Tsai’s defense policy and ambitious agenda of military procurements. Yet far from resolving lingering uncertainties, post-election developments have only intensified debate about whether Tsai’s defense policy and acquisition agenda is off-key.

Leading up to the election, a number of the Tsai administration’s procurement decisions had already come in for heavy criticism. The opposition candidate Han Kuo-yu, backed by media allies, claimed the DPP was wasting money on white elephants and trophy projects ill-suited to Taiwan’s defensive needs. Particular criticism was directed at the indigenous submarines and Landing Helicopter Deck (LHD) development plans, as well as the decision to purchase 108 M1A2 Abrams Tanks from the United States. Others more pointedly accused Tsai of recklessly stoking cross-strait tensions and adopting a “populist” strategy of promoting “vanity” purchases to bolster support for the government. Some were especially critical of Tsai’s claims that she was the Taiwanese president that has “placed the greatest emphasis on defense,” with the newly formed Left Party subsequently stating it “opposed Tsai Ing-wen’s
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