||The Communist regime on mainland China has never recanted its promise to reunify Taiwan, by force if necessary. Though in the first four decades of the standoff China’s internal strife and military backwardness made it little threat to Taiwan, the last twenty years of rapid military modernization have dramatically increased China’s ability to project power across the Taiwan Strait and will soon present leaders in Beijing with a range of options by which to coerce Taipei. The dominant theories of international relations and nearly all outside observers conclude that Taiwan is not committing enough resources to national defense given this potentially existential threat.|
This thesis analyzes the factors influencing Taiwan’s defense budgeting, building on previous research and updating previous scholarship in light of recent political changes in Taiwan. It examines comprehensive studies of Taiwan’s defense establishment and decision-making as well as contemporary news accounts of Taiwan’s political debates and public polling.
It concludes that two dominant external factors are perceptions of the Chinese threat and an expectation that the US would aid Taiwan in a conflict, and three key internal factors are the changing roles of the parties, the structure of the political system, and public opinion. Among these, public opinion, specifically the Taiwanese public’s strong preference for social welfare over defense spending, is the most important.