Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 1 News List

AIT head urges the government to beef up the armed forces

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

A top US envoy yesterday expressed apprehension about the military balance between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and urged the government to upgrade its combat readiness to give the US time to send troops should China invade.

Therese Shaheen, chairperson of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), also threw her weight behind President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) controversial plan to write a new constitution in 2006.

"China's military buildup is one of the cross-strait issues the US government is most concerned about and one of the urgent problems that needs to be taken care of," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) quoted Shaheen as saying yesterday afternoon.

Shaheen, who is in Taiwan for a five-day visit, made the remarks yesterday morning while visiting Premier Yu Shyi-kun at the Executive Yuan.

According to Lin, the one-hour discussion touched on three major topics: cross-strait security, a new constitution and intellectual property rights.

Beyond voicing her concern over China's military buildup, Lin said that Shaheen reiterated the US government's pledge to help Taiwan defend itself against any invasion.

"She also called on our legislature to support arms procurement funding and the Cabinet to maintain and replenish military equipment and ammunition because it costs less than buying new equipment," Lin said.

In response, Yu promised to do his best to safeguard regional security in the Asia-Pacific area.

Shaheen also expressed interest in how the Democratic Progressive Party government would draft a new constitution by 2006.

"She was very curious about how the Cabinet plans to put into practice Chen's plan: is it to hold a national referendum before forming a constitution drafting committee or to hold the referendum after the public reaches a consensus on the new version of the constitution?" Lin said.

Theoretically, Lin said, the Cabinet plans to solicit opinions from lawmakers, experts and the public between next year and 2006.

"We suspect it might take one to two years to prepare for a new constitution to take effect in 2008, as planned by the president," Lin quoted Yu as saying.

Likening Taiwan's democratization process to an adolescent passing through puberty, Yu said that the drafting of a new constitution is a period the nation has to go through.

"It's impossible to suppress our democratic development unless we head back to the martial law era, when there were bans on political parties and newspapers," Yu said.

Shaheen said she could understand why some have cast doubt on Chen's resolve in rewriting the Constitution.

"Taiwan has been regarded as a good student, so it's bound to raise eyebrows when it says or does something different or controversial," Lin quoted her as saying.

Yu also stressed that Chen's controversial plan has nothing to do with next year's presidential election.

"That's why the president hopes to see the new constitution go into effect in 2008," Yu said.

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