Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Taiwan must significantly increase its defense budget to counter any military threat from China, a senior U.S. official told an audience in Taipei.
David Henley, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, told the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference that Taiwan's proposed $1.4 billion increase in the defense budget is inadequate, the South China Morning Post reported.
"These increases, while a step in the right direction, however are insufficient to ensure that Taiwan can leverage its geography, advanced technology, workforce and patriotic population to channel Taiwan's inherent advantages necessary for a resilient defense," Henley said.
He advised Taiwan to invest in "large numbers of small capabilities," suggesting mobile cruise missiles, both purchased and domestically made, to defend the island, according to the Taipei Times.
China has long regarded the island nation as a breakaway province of the mainland.
Taiwan's defense department noted that China has sent warplanes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone 217 times in 2020 in a show of force, adding to other provocations that suggest China could resort to armed force to overtake the island of strengthen its South China Sea claims.
The day after Henley's comments, Taiwan Defense Minister Yen Te-fa told legislators that a budget increase to the air force was required.
In his address, Henley reiterated U.S. diplomatic commitments to provide Taiwan with material and services necessary for its self-defense capabilities.
A lack of interest in a military career is a part of Taiwan's defense problem, shaped by prior episodes of martial law, officials say. It phased out its military conscription policy in 2013 and currently has about 165,000 active duty personnel, a figure down from 275,000 three years ago, according to the L.A. Times.
"Taiwan doesn't have that culture where you can go out in the street wearing your fatigues with pride," said Huang Chung-ting, of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei. "Soldiers leave as soon as they've completed national service. That's a big problem. A lot of people think a good man doesn't become a soldier."
The China's People's Liberation Army has about two million personnel.