Thu, Aug 11, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Call the pan-blues' bluff

It's time for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to accept reality. The special arms procurement budget will never pass -- at least, not in anything like its current form. It's time to give up on the special budget tactic, which has left the pan-greens looking ineffectual and incompetent.

However, losing this long, drawn-out battle does not mean that Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have to admit defeat. The pan-blues have already made a grave mistake that will allow the administration to achieve its stated goal and acquire the items it has proclaimed are vital for Taiwan's defense.

The key is to do exactly what some pan-blue legislators have been calling on the administration to do for several months: Include the procurement of the items in the annual defense budget.

And, ironic as it may seem, this can be accomplished in a way that shouldn't be at all distasteful for the administration: by having Chen fulfill his promises.

The president has previously said that he wanted to increase the nation's defense expenditures from the current level of 2.4 percent of GDP to 3 percent.

Pan-blue legislators -- including outspoken and influential members of the Legislative Yuan's National Defense Committee -- have already said that they would agree to such a move. And despite the fact that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) used the "special budget" mechanism to purchase F-16 Falcon fighters from the US and Mirage 2000-5s from France in the 1990s, the pan-blues now repeatedly argue that this mechanism is inappropriate for defense expenditures. They want the items listed in the special budget to be included in the annual budget.

So Chen should agree to this demand.

The math is quite simple. The proposed special arms budget, as it stands now, would require the government to spend NT$480 billion (US$15 billion) over 15 years to purchase three major weapons systems from the US. This translates to a little over US$1 billion a year to purchase eight diesel-electric submarines, three PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries and 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Taiwan has budgeted about US$8 billion to spend on defense for Fiscal 2005. If the annual defense budget were increased to 3 percent of GDP -- about US$9.3 billion -- this would mean that the Ministry of National Defense would have an added US$1.3 billion to spend on shiny new toys. Over 15 years, the added amount would total a whopping US$19.5 billion -- US$4.5 billion in excess of the amount requested for the special arms procurement budget.

The best aspect of the "3 percent solution" is that it would allow Chen and the DPP to call the pan-blues' bluff.

Because the truth is that the pan-blues aren't concerned about fiscal responsibility. They simply oppose any policy initiative proposed by the Chen administration because their ideology is based on one thing alone: recovering political power, at any cost.

This is why, even as the country's declared enemy is openly planning an invasion, the pan-blues will not let Chen take the steps necessary to ensure that Taiwan remains a de facto independent, sovereign state.

This is why the pan-blues are ready to surrender to Beijing and sell out this country's hard-earned democracy.

And this is why it is vital for the DPP to find a way to make progress on this issue -- to achieve substantial results and not just score a few political points with pithy sound bites.

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