Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Buy arms, but not at any price

In recent years, arms procurement has been the subject of a lot of controversy. The controversy -- much of it originating in the Legislative Yuan, which is in charge of approving procurement budgets -- has centered on the necessity of weapons systems, the price of those systems and the potential for corruption.

A 15-member legislative delegation headed by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is in the US to discuss planned weapons purchases.

How to strike a balance between among various legitimate concerns is a very challenging task. But, in trying to accomplish this difficult task, it is imperative to keep in mind Taiwan's unique circumstances -- circumstances that complicate an issue that is controversial even in other countries.

It is no exaggeration to say that the nation is in dire need of certain weapons systems, especially considering the enormous threat from China and the imbalance in military power between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. No wonder the US has repeatedly expressed its concern about the situation.

Lee Wen-chung (李文忠), a Democratic Progressive Party legislator and a member of the delegation visiting the US, described the US' attitude toward the pending arms purchase as not just "aggressive" but also "worried." According to Lee, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz went so far as to say that if Taiwan does not take its defense seriously, neither can the US.

Unfortunately, despite serious threats, many opposition legislators have continued to accuse the government of engaging in an arms race with China. Given the nation's current situation, it is in fact laughable to depict the situation as an "arms race." Taiwan is only allowed to purchase defensive arms from the US under the Taiwan Relations Act, while China faces no such prohibition and has not even bothered to conceal its intention to become a military superpower on a par with the US. With the two sides on such a completely unequal footing, how can there possibly be an arms race between China and Taiwan?

It is difficult to understand how so many people can overlook the need to enhance the nation's defense capabilities, preferring to depend instead on the US to come to the nation's aid in a timely manner.

There are two obvious problems with this position. One, in the event of a Chinese attack, Taiwan would need to have a sufficient defense capability to hold off the Chinese until the US could make its power felt; and two, defending one's country is a sacred responsibility and it is irresponsible, not to say contemptible, to depend on other countries to do it instead.

Unfortunately, despite the nation's need for arms to help it defend itself, Taiwan has access to very limited channels through which it can purchase weapons. This of course has much to do with China's threatening and coercing other countries to not sell arms to Taiwan. The US is virtually the only country willing and able to ignore China's pressure.

Between the US and Taiwan, this creates an imbalance in supply and demand, so it is hardly surprising that the US isn't exactly handing out bargains.

On the other hand, this does not mean that the sky is the limit as far as prices are concerned. Therefore, all efforts to get the best value for money under these unusual circumstances -- including efforts by the Legislative Yuan -- ought to be appreciated. After all, it is the people's money that is at stake here.

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