Wed, Aug 24, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Ma cool on revised defense bill

BACKDOWN The Ministry of National Defense removed items from the struggling arms-procurement bill, placing them in the annual budget in an attempt to woo the KMT

BY RICH CHANG  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN KINMEN, WITH AGENCIES

President Chen Shui-bian, center, pays homage at the Martyrs' Shrine in Kinmen yesterday. He used the occasion to urge KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou to negotiate a revised arms-procurement package.

PHOTO: WU CHENG-TING, TAIPEI TIMES

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said that he expected constructive discussions with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on a revised arms-procurement package, as the Ministry of National Defense announced it would redirect items from the bill to its regular budget.

"The special arms budget has been unreasonably blocked by the pan-blue-camp parties on 26 occasions in the legislature. There has been no chance for the arms bill to be discussed in the legislature," Chen said. "But with Ma assuming the KMT chairmanship last week, I expect to have a reasonable and practical discussion on the arms bill and national security issues with Ma as soon as possible."

Chen made the comments during a military ceremony in Kinmen yesterday.

The reallocation of items is an apparent attempt to make the bill more palatable to the pan-blue camp. But Ma yesterday seemed uninterested in Chen's agenda or holding a meeting, and tersely suggested that the arms issue should be dealt with by the caucuses in the legislature.

Presidential Office Secretary-General Yu Shyi-kun then said that Ma should clarify his stance on important bills.

"Arms procurement concerns national security. The responsibility has to be taken by both the government and opposition parties, including the majority [party in the legislature]. In short, everyone must share responsibility, and that includes the KMT chairman," he said.

The defense ministry said it would trim the NT$480 billion (US$15 billion) budget to facilitate its passage through the legislature. Although there would be no change in the weaponry to be bought, part of the special budget would be placed in the regular defense budget, military spokesman Liu Chih-chien (劉志堅) said.

Liu said local reports that the NT$133 billion earmarked for six batteries of PAC-3 missiles would be transferred was one option.

Speaking on Ma's leadership of the KMT, Chen said he expected Ma to take an honest and reasonable approach when negotiating with the government.

"I expect that Ma will avoid partisanship and cooperate with the government in promoting the nation's security," he said.

Chen said Taiwan did not want to be involved in an arms race with China. "Avoiding war" and "stopping war" had been the government's position from the outset, he said.

However, Taiwan had to be prepared for a military attack from China, he said.

"China's more than 700 missiles targeting Taiwan and its introduction of the `Anti-Secession' Law in March legalizing a non-peaceful approach to resolving the Taiwan issue show their intentions," he said.

The original arms bill aimed to purchase three major weapons systems from the US -- eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries.

The delay in approving the arms deal has fueled worries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its own defense, with some senior US officials calling the budget a litmus test for US-Taiwan relations.

The legislature is set to review the arms budget next month.

Additional reporting by Chiu Yu-tzu

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KMT willing to review arms plan

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