Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Arms procurement under fire

The issue of Taiwan's arms procurement from the US has again come under serious scrutiny in recent days, highlighting a number of conflicts of interest.

Two events on Thursday and Friday have rekindled public interest in the topic -- an article in The Washington Post published on Friday, and a visit by a group of US naval officials to the Legislative Yuan on Thursday to push through a plan for Taiwan to purchase eight conventional submarines.

The Post article is right in pointing out US concerns about the rapid shift in the cross-strait balance of military power in China's favor, and that Taiwan's government is experiencing obstacles in the way of upgrading and modernizing its military and defense capabilities. However, it is not entirely correct about the obstacles holding back the Taiwanese government.

It is a gross understatement to say "the [arms procurement] process has been complicated by Taiwan's increasingly assertive legislature." The Legislative Yuan, in which the opposition pan-blue alliance maintains a majority, has presented a major, if not the biggest, obstacle to the DPP government's implementation of its policies, arms procurements being just one of the thorny issues in a long list.

Clearly the US government is beginning to get a sense of where the real problems lie, which was demonstrated by the US naval officials' visit to the legislature, where budgets for arms procurement are facing serious cuts. The trip does at least serve one constructive purpose -- enhancing the public transparency of the decision-making process for arms procurement and eliminating public skepticism about the rationales behind purchase decisions.

However, many members of the pro-unification camp, which has traditionally disputed the legitimacy of the need to arm Taiwan against China, were quick to denounce the move as the exertion of undue pressure by the US government for the purchase of arms by Taiwan. It would be foolish to underestimate the group's ability to use the incident to incite public resentment by preying on some long-existing skepticism about arms procurement.

These long-standing doubts stem in part from the confounding sense of national identity many people in Taiwan have. The question weighing on these people's minds is: "If we are all Chinese, and if peaceful unification with China is our long-term goal, then why purchase all these arms?"

Of course, the Chinese government, which is rapidly expanding its military power and pointing hundreds of missiles at Taiwan, is really the one that should answer this question, rather than Taiwan, which is simply arming defensively.

The fact that big bucks are being spent to purchase arms at a time when the Taiwanese government is buried under high deficits, triggers skepticism as well. Frankly speaking, the concern over the lack of money is not unfounded. But the people of Taiwan also need to realize that it is virtually impossible for Taiwan to purchase arms without US aid, because China has grown big enough to scare off other foreign countries interested in selling arms to Taiwan. It is not the same as purchasing commercial jets, for example, where Taiwan gets more latitude to pick and choose between different foreign suppliers competing for our businesses. Taiwan simply doesn't have the leverage to haggle too much about arms prices. This is indeed a very sad dilemma unique to Taiwan's situation.

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