President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said that People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) would not oppose the government's purchase of an arms package from the US and expressed confidence that the legislature will pass the contentious bill soon.
"After some cooling off since the [legislative] elections, I believe that everyone has come to an even better understanding of the necessity for this arms procurement. Such is the case with PFP Chairman James Soong, who, after communication with him during his visit to Washington, no longer opposes the arms purchase," Chen said.
Chen was speaking while receiving US Democratic Representative Tom Lantos at the Presidential Office yesterday.
While in Washington, Soong is believed to have spoken with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Randall Schriver and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless about the arms package.
US President George W. Bush approved the sale in 2001 to boost Taiwan's defenses, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and PFP-controlled legislature has refused to pass the budget, saying the NT$610.8 billion (US$19.2 billion) price tag proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government was too high.
The arms-procurement package includes eight diesel-electric submarines, a squadron of 12 submarine-hunting P-3C Orion aircraft and six Patriot PAC-III anti-missile batteries.
"I believe the arms-purchase budget will soon be able to make its way through the Legislative Yuan after rational communication and consultation has taken place," Chen said, adding that "peace in the Taiwan Strait is in the common interest of the US, Japan and Taiwan and it is also the Taiwanese people's unshakable responsibility."
Taiwan would not shirk its res-ponsibility to other countries in maintaining cross-strait security, Chen said.
He said that Taiwan would strengthen its defense capabilities and did not wish to see a cross-strait imbalance in military strength.
During the meeting, Chen decorated Lantos with the Order of the Brilliant Star in recognition of his contribution to Taiwan-US relations.
Chen said he was "looking forward to a better and a more amicable relationship between Taiwan and the US during US President George W. Bush's second term in office and [hoped that the] two countries could form an alliance of values."
Chen also took the opportunity to comment on the state of cross-strait relations.
Chen said the recent agreement with China on direct charter flights during the Lunar New Year holidays represented good progress in cross-strait communication compared with last year and the year before that.
Chen was referring to negotiations held on Saturday in Macau, at which representatives from Taipei and Beijing reached an agreement authorizing Taiwanese and Chinese airlines to fly to each other's airports between Jan. 29 and Feb. 20.
"The negotiations paved a good foundation for future cross-strait negotiations. The launch of the Lunar New Year charter flights is a point of departure for normalizing cross-strait relations," Chen said. "This year is an opportune moment to reopen the door for cross-strait negotiations."
"As long as both sides harbor good will and seek similarities in the midst of difference, then there is nothing that is irreconcilable and nothing on which we cannot work together," he said.