President Chen Shui-bian (
"Some people have misled [the public by] saying that the arms purchase would affect the budget for social welfare. I would hereby like to stress to the nation's compatriots that the Ministry of National Defense's budget will not affect the budget for social welfare, and the same goes for the special arms procurement budget, which will not affect social welfare either," Chen said when addressing an audience at the opening ceremony of a national conference on the improvement of welfare services.
Chen's appeal came in the midst of heated debate over the government's planned purchase of an arms package from the US, which includes eight diesel-powered submarines, 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration's NT$610.8 billion arms procurement plan is currently pending approval in the Legislature Yuan, where the opposition pan-blue camp holds a majority.
Saying that the multibillion-dollar special arms procurement budget will be spread over a 15-year period, Chen said that the government's annual defense spending will total NT$40 billion, or 2.8 percent of the nation's GDP. This ratio is lower than South Korea's 3 percent, the US' 4 percent, Singapore's 4.3 percent and Israel's 8 percent.
In comparison, the NT$610.8 billion arms procurement budget is lower than the amount spent in the early 1990s, when Taiwan purchased F-16 and Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft and Lafayette-class frigates, Chen added.
Saying that it is the government's priority to revive the economy before it deteriorates and becomes a social problem, Chen said that the government would not work to obtain economic achievement at the expense of social welfare.
At an event later in the day, the president again touched upon the arms purchase issue in his speech, expressing regret over remarks made by some of those who opposed the arms purchase and were arguing that it should be scrapped.
"Some people have said that there is no point for the arms procurement purchase, as more weapons won't help us win a war [with China] anyway," Chen said.
"It is sad to see that there are people among us who harbor such a defeatist attitude and want to give up already," Chen said.
"Others have argued that the Americans will help us anyway [in case of war]. But Americans pay taxes, too. Do they own us?" Chen added. "The special arms procurement purchases are needed because Taiwan must help itself."
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