Mon, Dec 26, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Debate on the arms bill must be allowed

By Lai I-chung (賴怡志)

Last week, the arms procurement bill was finally put on the legislative agenda after being vetoed 41 times in the Procedure Committee. But on Friday the pan-blue camp halted the legislative session, preventing any discussion of the matter on the floor.

Legislators who oppose the bill should not continue blocking it but allow it to be debated, giving the public a better understanding of the matter. Being on the agenda is different from being passed. It only means that the legislature is able to review the proposal. When it is discussed, the public can attempt to understand both the arms bill's content and scope.

If a consensus cannot be reached after discussion and negotiation, it may still be rejected by the legislature. But in this process, the public will gain a better understanding of Taiwan's defense capacities and needs.

The controversy presently focuses on whether the weapons are being sold for a reasonable price. In fact, the plan is closely connected to the nation's overall defense policy and security strategy. This is not the right time to haggle over prices, because this concerns the nation's defense. The plan grows out of the nation's broad security strategy.

Apart from the debate on the budget, there is also concern over the possible negative impact on Taiwan-US relations if the plan fails. Unfortunately, the core issue -- the nation's strategic and tactical needs -- has been drowned out by the torrent of personal abuse from politicians and the media. As a result, there is an absence of real debate on the issues. This clearly does not help Taiwan's development, and it may prevent the public from becoming better educated about national defense.

The US has for a long time said that it will accept Taiwan's democratic decisions regarding the purchases. But as former deputy assistant secretary of state Randall Schriver pointed out, what the US does not understand is why the legislature will not even put the issue on the agenda for discussion.

If we take a closer look at the plan, its content and items have been amended. Some items have been moved to the regular budget from a special one. The budget has also been reduced significantly. Doesn't even the amended plan deserve legislative consideration?

Several pan-blue-camp leaders claim that it is unnecessary to propose a plan, because the procurement of weapons was vetoed in the referendum held last year on the same day as the presidential vote. It should be remembered, however, that another referendum question was also "vetoed": the establishment of a "peace and stability framework" for cross-strait interaction. According to the pan-blue leaders' logic, the cross-strait talks they promote so actively should also be banned, since the second referendum question also failed to pass.

In which case, the public would be more likely to oppose their trips to China and the ongoing forum between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the communists.

Instead of sticking to such twisted logic, the two referendum questions should be clarified. Last year's vote should not be seen as the end of the issue.

Some oppose the arms procurement plan because they see it as "spendthrift" purchasing. Even if they do not support it, doesn't it deserve a chance for rational discussion in the Legislative Yuan? The boycott is a result of a political confrontation between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. But rather than emotional accusations, the public should be allowed to thoroughly examine the plan under the framework of national security.

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