Taiwan presidential front-runner vows to speed up defence reforms


TAIPEI (Reuters) – Leading Taiwan presidential candidate William Lai said on Thursday he would hasten military reforms to make the armed forces agile and capable of withstanding conflict, but stick to the objective of ensuring that war was an “unthinkable option”.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up its military threats against the island, such as staging war games in April in which it practiced blockades and precision strikes.

Taiwan’s vice president and a candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Lai has consistently led the majority of opinion polls ahead of the January election. President Tsai Ing-wen cannot run again after two terms in office.

Tsai is overseeing a modernisation programme, focused on “asymmetric warfare” to make the island’s forces more mobile, agile and harder to attack, while developing longer-range missiles and building stealth warships and a fleet of drones.

Meeting foreign diplomats in Taipei, Lai said building up Taiwan’s deterrence was key, and pointed to Tsai’s policies, including greater defence spending.

“I will continue to expedite these crucial reforms, with the understanding that a strong national defence reduces risks of armed conflict he said, in comments made available by the DPP.

“We will transition to an asymmetric fighting force with greater survivable, agile and cost-effective capabilities,” he added.

“My objective is clear: We must always ensure that war remains an unthinkable option for all parties involved.”

Hou Yu-ih, the presidential candidate of Taiwan’s main opposition party, said this week he would reverse an extension of compulsory military service set for January, adding that he would ease tension with China, making the extension unnecessary.

As premier in 2018, Lai angered China by telling parliament he was a “Taiwan independence worker” whose position was that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country – a red line for Beijing.

He reiterated to the diplomats that he would “work tirelessly to support the peaceful cross-Strait status quo”.

He added, “We must maintain a steady hand as we navigate increasingly turbulent waters.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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