Kevin McCarthy fails to pressure Taiwan’s Tsai publicly on defense spending

Taiwan President McCarthy
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., second from right, welcomes Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as she arrives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

Kevin McCarthy fails to pressure Taiwan’s Tsai publicly on defense spending

Video Embed

Meeting President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan on Wednesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rightly pledged continued American support for Taiwan. Unfortunately, McCarthy missed an important opportunity to push Tsai on the need for much-increased defense spending.

China’s fury over this meeting be damned, McCarthy made a good move hosting Tsai at the Ronald Reagan presidential library. The leader of a nation facing annihilation, at least in terms of its national democracy, Tsai has shown political courage in staring down escalating threats from Beijing. But while Republicans in Congress are rightly pushing for increases in military aid to Taiwan, McCarthy should have complemented his public praise for Tsai with some tougher rhetoric.


The need for that rhetoric is clear.

President Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army to be ready for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027. And while China is dramatically boosting its defense spending and broader preparations for an attack on Taiwan, the island democracy has responded with only sluggish improvements to its own defense. Taiwan’s 2023 defense budget stands at just 2.4% of its gross domestic product. While that’s a significantly higher proportion of GDP than what most democracies spend on defense, it is a drop in the bucket of what Taiwan needs.

To defeat a prospective PLA landing force before it could establish beachhead strongholds, the likely key to victory in any war, Taiwan needs massive improvements to its reserve force readiness and major boosts to its anti-ship and anti-air capabilities. That’s the very minimum requirement. The urgency of these strengthened defenses is hard to overestimate. Indeed, deterrence of a Chinese attack is probably not even possible anymore. Xi views the island’s subjugation under the Communist Party flag as a test of his personal and political destiny. So if an attack will come regardless, Taiwan better be prepared to defeat it.

That in mind, Taiwan’s defense allotment of just 2.4% of GDP is at least three times lower than what it should be. This failure of investment isn’t a question of resources. Taiwan’s government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is extremely low compared to that of most developed nations. The Taiwanese government also dedicates large portions of its budget to education and social welfare. And while those priorities are important, they are not as important as national existence.

This defense spending concern bears note for reasons beyond boosted military capability. After all, it might be difficult for a president to justify to the American people going to war for a nation that seems only moderately interested in defending itself. Especially, that is, if the PLA’s Dongfeng missiles start smashing into the decks of U.S. aircraft carriers and the bodies of their 5,000-strong crews.

Yes, for reasons of trade flows, technology, international order, and democratic values, the United States has a significant vested interest in Taiwan’s national survival. But the hard truth is that the U.S. may well lose a war with China over Taiwan. It is thus incumbent on senior politicians like McCarthy to unequivocally pressure Taiwan to do more in its own defense.


© 2023 Washington Examiner

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles