Thu, Dec 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The meaning of the arms bill

After being blocked no less than 41 times in the pan-blue dominated Procedure Committee, the long-stalled NT$480 billion (US$14.4 billion) arms procurement bill has finally made it onto the agenda for formal review by the legislature tomorrow.

Appearing extremely exasperated and having suffered what they described as a "surprise attack" (the pan-green members took advantage of their pan-blue counterparts' tardiness by initiating a vote on the bill before most of them had arrived), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party alliance vowed to overturn the bill, with KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) going so far as to say that the pan-greens "will have to pay" for what they have done.

Why so much anger from Ma? What great sin have the pan-greens committed by voting to send a bill that aims to enhance the nation's defensive capability for review?

If, as Ma has often claimed, his party supports legitimate self-defense and is against only a "sucker's" arms purchase, then wouldn't the legislative review provide a good opportunity for lawmakers from his party to engage in a rational debate with their pan-green counterparts?

Ma may not be too pleased about it, but tomorrow the public will finally have the chance to see whether the pan-blues are capable of deliberating reasonably over the bill, as opposed to simply stalling it repeatedly in the Procedure Committee.

In making every attempt to pass the arms procurement bill, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has already made several compromises, including cutting the budget from NT$610.8 billion to NT$480 billion, and proposing to pay for the six anti-missile Patriot Advanced Capability-3 batteries from the Ministry of National Defense's regular budget.

The pan-greens are of the opinion that the purchase of the eight conventional submarines, 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft and six batteries of Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems are essential to Taiwan's national defense, and key to maintaining the balance of power with China.

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the pan-blues' ceaseless rejection of the bill in the Procedure Committee has drawn questions from the public and fueled concern in Washington that Taiwan may, after all, not be serious about its own defense.

Without doubt, the ball is now in Ma's court. The legislative review will provide one and all with an opportunity to see whether Ma is sincere about Taiwan's defense.

To many Douglas Adams fans, the number "42" is endowed with mock-mystical power, as in his novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy it is revealed as the number from which all meaning -- of life, the universe and everything -- can be derived.

While the fact that the DPP succeeded in passing the bill on its 42nd attempt, sadly, is no more than a coincidence, an awful lot -- if not everything -- is at stake, and the public will be watching to see what role the pan-blues choose to play, and asking the question with real meaning: "Who do you stand for?"

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