Academics and social activists spoke out yesterday at a forum held by the Democracy Advancement Alliance (DAA) in Taipei, saying that the Cabinet's plan to spend NT$610.8 billion (US$18.23 billion) on arms from the US is a dangerous step towards a debilitating arms race with China.
The special budget of NT$610.8 billion (US$18.25 billion) was approved by the Cabinet earlier this month for the purchase of arms from the US.
The bill, due for review in the legislature, says that the money will be spent over 15 years.
Although some forum members said that the government's actions were an over-reaction to a Chinese "military bluff," others emphasized that regardless of the strength of the threat, Taiwan could not hope to win any arms race with China.
Panelists drew parallels to the 1980s arms race between US and the former Soviet Union, saying that Taiwan had neither the funds nor ability to sustain a protracted arsenal competition with China.
"Historical example shows us that arms races are never ending," said Hsu Cho-yun (
During the cold-war, then US President Ronald Reagan embarked on an arms race with the Soviet Union, driving the Soviet economy to ruin.
Panelists questioned how much spending would be enough in Taiwan's case.
"Presently, the government is reacting to some 600 missiles pointed in our direction from Fujian Province with an arms spending package of NT$610 billion," said Yang Kai-huang (楊開煌), president of the Mainland China Studies Association and a professor at National Dong Hwa University.
"How much should we spend, then, on military arms if they point further missiles at us from Nanking? How much if they point all of their missiles at us?"
The group criticized President Chen Shui-bian (
"Is this huge amount of money being spent for the protection of Taiwan, or is it for the protection of Taiwan-American relations?" panelists asked.
This whole situation is a joke -- the US must think that we are suckers," said former independent legislator and Taipei National University of the Arts professor Chu Hui-liang (
The arms spending package may also be against the public will.
"I'm worried about the progress of democracy in Taiwan," Chu said. "The public already made its will clear during the March 20th referendum. The Chen administration is overstepping its boundaries with the arms budget that it has decided on without first engaging in any public discussion," he said, referring to the failure of the referendum on an anti-missile system purchase this March.
Panelists also blasted the government for earmarking so much of the nation's resources for arms purchases when there were many other domestic issues that needed financing, such as education and environmental reform.
The DAA and social activists said that they would battle the arms purchase by increasing public awareness and discussion about the budget.
They aim to ask legislators to clarify their stance on the budget and a possible referendum on the topic to the people and called on opposition parties to stand with the people on this matter.