Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Pan-blues disregard US on arms bill

BITTER FRUIT Instead of reconsidering a long-stalled arms deal, the opposition parties have strengthened their resolve to block it despite strong words from senior US officials

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Today's meeting of the legislature's National Defense Committee will be the first opportunity to gauge the impact of recent urging from top US officials to move a controversial proposed arms procurement deal forward, but opposition lawmakers said the US' move had backfired.

In an interview with the Central News Agency, an unnamed senior US official said that whichever party was in power in Taiwan in 2008 would inherit a mess, with bilateral relations on a downward spiral.

The official made the statement shortly after American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young held a press conference last Thursday in which he urged the Legislative Yuan to pass the long-stalled arms procurement budget by the end of the fall.

Opposition politicians have responded negatively to the comments from US officials.

Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), director of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) policy department, said that his party would not let the budget pass a preliminary review.

"Young's remarks have made the passage of the bill uncertain. It's inappropriate to let it through at this moment, as a media survey had found that 65 percent of the public disapproves of Young," Tseng told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.

The arms bills awaiting review are a supplemental budget for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year's defense budget request, after the government withdrew its initial arms purchase special budget bill in accordance with lobbying from the pan-blues.

Despite the KMT having originally agreed to pass the NT$6.2 billion (US$193 million) supplemental budget, the bill has still been blocked by the pan-blues from being placed on the legislative agenda.

The supplemental arms budget calls for the purchase of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, the upgrading of PAC-2 anti-missile batteries and partial funding for a submarine design.

The fiscal year 2007 defense budget request -- in which NT$25.5 billion for purchasing major weapons systems from the US has been included -- is to be preliminarily reviewed in today's National Defense Committee meeting.

People First Party (PFP) Spokesman Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said his party would recommend that the funding for the major US weapons systems be cut from next year's defense budget.

PFP Legislator Hwang Yih-jiau (黃義交), who also doubles as the party's policy department director, said his party would consider tying the arms budget with a cross-strait direct links clause.

"Only if the government agrees to open direct cross-strait links will my party allow review of the arms budget," Hwang said.

Citing the annual position papers released by the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (ECCT), which said that Taiwan has lost its competitiveness in comparison with other Asian countries, Hwang said that only the opening has become an imperative issue.

"In terms of cross-strait relations, we can't separate military issues from economic issues," he said.

At a separate event, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday urged political parties to face the issue rationally and deal with the budget democratically.

"Although [what Young osaid] has sparked contention, [we have to admit that] Taiwan does have defense demands," Wang told the press in Kaohsiung.

Meanwhile, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said yesterday that the arms deal is not simply a partisan matter designed to help certain political parties win the 2008 elections, but is an issue that affects the security of the people of Taiwan.

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