Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Tang disputes Shaheen's talk on subs

NATIONAL DEFENSE The defense minister said that the government would press ahead with plans to buy eight submarines, even though the AIT chairperson said they were `silly'

By Brian Hsu and Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) yesterday said he would complain to American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairperson Therese Shaheen if he could verify that she really described Taiwan's plan to buy submarines as "silly."

"We do not know for sure whether Shaheen said, as reported by newspapers, that our bid to buy eight new diesel-electric submarines is silly. But if she did say so, we would complain to her," Tang said. "The Ministry of National Defense is firm in its determination to buy the eight new submarines. Both President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Premier Yu Shyi-kun take the same position," he said.

"The MND is the final decision-maker in any arms purchase. It will not change because of any influence from outside," Tang said.

Tang held a press conference with navy commander-in-chief Admiral Miao Yung-ching (苗永慶). Both were at the legislature for a closed-door budget screening session of the defense committee.

Miao said the navy does have a great need for the submarines because they are deterrent weapons that could help prevent a war.

"We do appreciate US President George W. Bush's agreement to get eight new submarines for Taiwan in 2001. We hope to get them in the shortest time possible," Miao said. "But I do not mean that we can achieve this goal in one or two years."

Both Tang and Miao were responding to Shaheen's reported remarks on Saturday that Taiwan does not need to spend big money on submarines and that it might as well prioritize the enhancement of its command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (C4ISR) capabilities.

Shaheen was quoted as saying by several newspapers' correspondents in the US that Taiwan would not be able to get the submarines for at least 10 years and that the deal would cost billions of US dollars.

Shaheen considered it silly for some Taiwanese to argue now about who would build the submarines, reports said.

Shaheen's remarks aroused strong criticism from lawmakers promoting the plan to have part of the eight submarines built in Taiwan. The lawmakers were actually the driving force behind Tang's unusual press conference yesterday.

Lawmaker Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) of the People First Party said Shaheen should be more sophisticated in the handling of the submarine issue. Lin was the lawmaker who initiated the move to build part of the eight submarines locally.

Lin said Shaheen should not promote the C4ISR system at the expense of submarines, an item said to be strongly pushed by ex-US secretary of defense William Cohen, who is on a visit to Taiwan.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday reiterated that the government's plan to spend NT$700 billion over the next 10 years on weapons was unchanged.

"While China's military budgets increases by two digits every year, it's important to purchase sufficient weaponry to protect ourselves and safeguard the military balance across the Taiwan Strait," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) quoted Yu as saying after Yu received Cohen during a closed-door meeting at the Executive Yuan yesterday afternoon.

While the legislature has the final say on the budget request, Yu said the Cabinet would exercise utmost caution while negotiating with the opposition.

"We have to handle this matter with extra care not only because the presidential election is only four months away but also because the ruling Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] doesn't enjoy an absolute majority in the legislature," Yu said. "Political disputes might arise if we fail to handle the matter properly and the media are very curious about arms procurement projects which are sensitive."

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