Wed, Nov 01, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Arms procurement blocked once more

UP IN ARMS Pan-blue lawmakers ensured that there would be no action on the purchase of a package of US weapons, while protesters clashed with police

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Members of the Anti-Arms Purchasing Alliance clash with police officers outside the legislature yesterday while attempting to make their way to the conference room on the second floor where the legislative Procedure Committee was meeting.

PHOTO: CNA

Despite -- or because of -- American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young's recent comments, pan-blue lawmakers once again refused to take action on a long-stalled US arms procurement package yesterday.

Young on Thursday urged the legislature to approve the package this fall.

While the committee was convening yesterday, dozens of people from the Anti-Arms Purchasing Alliance led by independent Legislator May Chin (高金素梅) staged a protest, shouting "oppose arms purchase."

Altercations occurred when dozens of legislative police officers attempted to prevent the protesters from making their way to the conference room on the second floor where the committee was meeting. One police officer was slightly injured.

During the committee meeting, Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Liao Pen-yen (廖本煙) angered People First Party (PFP) legislators Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) and Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) by saying that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had been "kidnapped" by the PFP.

Liu and Lee walked over to Liao and stood in front of him, to which Liao responded by hitting his desk.

"The KMT didn't dare to let the procurement through the Procedure Committee as it was afraid that the PFP would [retaliate by] siding with the pan-greens on the party assets statute," Liao said, referring to a statute aimed at divesting the KMT of its stolen party assets.

The KMT and PFP reached a consensus on Monday that there is no rush to review the arms budgets or the president's nominations for Control Yuan members and the nation's top prosecutor.

The effort to procure 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, eight diesel-electric submarines and six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile batteries from the US has been stalled since 2004.

In its initial incarnation, the deal was submitted by the Cabinet to the legislature as a NT$610.8 billion (US$16 billion) special budget.

After a series of revisions and price cuts, the latest effort to procure the weapons systems has taken the form of a NT$6.2 billion supplemental budget, which would provide initial funding for only part of the three programs.

The supplemental budget includes initial funding for the purchase of the P-3Cs, the upgrading of PAC-2 anti-missile batteries, and partial funding for the submarine design, as well as NT$700 million for building an airstrip on Taiping Island.

Muddying the waters is the fact that the special budget -- reduced to NT$340 billion for the 12 P-3Cs and the eight subs only -- is still before the legislature.

The Executive Yuan last Tuesday proposed a motion to remove the special arms budget from consideration and put the supplemental budget on the legislative agenda, but both requests were turned down by the committee.

Almost the same sequence of events played out yesterday.

Independent Legislator Li Ao (李敖), who interrupted the Procedure Committee meeting last Tuesday by spraying teargas, didn't attend this time.

Meanwhile, a US weekly reported on Monday that Taiwan's ties with the US have eroded to an unprecedented degree amid the defense budget gridlock.

According to the latest edition of Defense News, lawmakers are trying the US' patience.

Washington insists that the arms it has offered Taiwan are necessary to maintain the nation's defensive capabilities in the face of a rapidly expanding Chinese military.

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