President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) promised to boost the nation's defense spending to 3 percent of GDP by 2008 as part of his government's efforts to boost Taiwan's defensive capabilities during a speech at the commissioning ceremony held for two US Kidd-class destroyers in Keelung yesterday.
Chen also urged the legislature to pass the long-stalled special arms budget.
"I hope that the special arms bill, which proposes the purchase of three major weapons systems from the US can be placed on the legislative agenda and be debated before the end of the current legislative session," the president said.
PHOTO: SAM YEH, AFP
"The legislature originally objected to the government using a special budget to pay for these weapons systems. But even after the government proposed to move part of the purchase to the annual defense budget, legislators still blocked it. Therefore, I invite the legislature to tell the government exactly how they wish the special arms bill to be presented. The government will take its opinion seriously," he added.
Chen said since the Dec. 3 local elections have passed both the ruling and opposition parties should calm down and consider the issue of national security rationally.
"What will we do if the US cancels the arms sales?" Chen asked.
In his speech, the president promised to increase annual military spending from its current level of 2.4 percent of GDP to 3 percent by 2008. Washington had earlier suggested that an increase in defense spending to 3 percent of GDP would help Taiwan to accommodate the three items in its regular budget.
Yesterday's commissioning ceremony, which took place at Keelung Naval Base, also marked the first time both the president and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) have appeared together in public since their recent tiff over the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) chairmanship election.
While no words were exchanged between Chen and Lu during their tour of one of the two destroyers, the president was spotted reminding Lu to watch her step as they climbed down the steep stairs of the warship.
The two Kidd-class destroyers were christened Keelung and Suao.
A squadron commander of the Kidd-class destroyer fleet, Rear Admiral Pu Che-chun (蒲澤春), who was in charge of the evaluation and delivery of the destroyers, told reporters that the capabilities of the two warships are very similar to that of the US' Aegis-class destroyers and he is confident that the new vessels will significantly boost the navy's fleet air defense and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
Pu added that the destroyers will also help raise the armed forces joint combat capabilities.
The US agreed to sell the government four older Kidd-class destroyers in 2001.
The government purchased four of the 8,000-tonne guided-missile ships in 2003 for US$800 million. They were decommissioned by the US navy in 1998, and are expected to remain in service for another 20 years.
The vessels are equipped with Standard II missiles, Harpoon missiles, 127mm guns and a radar-system capable of simultaneously tracking dozens of incoming airborne threats.
The Standard II missiles have a range of 144km and vastly outperform the Standard I missiles currently deployed on Taiwan's Perry-class frigates.
Taiwan will take delivery of the remaining two destroyers next year.
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