Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Some progress, but KMT's arms intentions not clear

A START?Although the KMT allowed the annual defense budget to move forward procedurally, it has not yet endorsed the substance of a controversial US arms deal

By Rich Chang and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Part of the proposed annual defense budget passed the National Defense Committee with only minor revisions, despite the fact that it includes partial funding for the controversial procurement of weapons from the US.

However, the ultimate fate of the budget -- and the US arms deal -- is still uncertain.

The Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) position on the arms deal is still not clear. The party's support is key to resolving the years-old legislative stalemate over procuring eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile batteries from the US.

During a joint meeting of the National Defense Committee and Budgets and Final Accounts Committee yesterday, KMT legislators proposed a motion to let the unclassified part of the budget proceed.

This marked the first time that the party did not block funds relating to the procurement of the three advanced weapons systems from the US.

But since the KMT and People First Party (PFP) on Tuesday blocked a supplemental budget for the items, with the parties saying on Monday that they were "not in a rush" to review the budgets, it wasn't immediately clear if the KMT intends to soften its opposition to the deal.

The joint meeting yesterday reviewed only the unclassified part of the military's annual budget for next year.

KMT lawmakers decided to retain an NT$37 million (US$1.1 million) budget in initial funding for a design study for the eight submarines, as well as NT$2.5 million in funding for the P-3C aircraft. But the party "reserved" approving NT$4.2 million in funding for PAC-3s.

It also "reserved" approving NT$20 million in funding for the procurement of 66 F-16C/D fighter jets from the US.

Still, it is an open secret that the bulk of funding for the three US weapons systems -- about NT$25.5 billion -- and NT$16 billion in funding for the F-16 fighters are included in the "classified" part of the budget. This is set for preliminary review on Monday.

After passing preliminary review, the budgets would then be included in the Cabinet's total budget request for next year, and would proceed to a second reading in the legislature.

The budget's ultimate fate has been a source of irritation for US officials, and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young last week came under fire from the pan-blue camp for asking it to pass the US arms procurement package by the end of this fall.

The de facto US ambassador met Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday in an unrelated event.

"Young told me that his comments had been misunderstood. He said that he just wanted work to run smoothly for him in Taiwan, but it seems to him that everybody's got him wrong," Wang told reporters after a short talk with Young.

Meanwhile, the PFP caucus called a press conference and blasted the KMT for not supporting the PFP's efforts to slash the budget.

"This proves that the KMT doesn't really oppose the arms package. While it has been saying that it is against the bill, in fact, it gives secret support to the Democratic Progressive Party," PFP legislative caucus whip Cheng Ching-ling (鄭金玲) said.

The KMT and PFP on Thursday jointly blocked a NT$6.3 billion supplemental arms budget from being put onto the legislative agenda for review.

"We urge the KMT not to continue deceiving the public by boycotting the [supplemental budget] anymore. Next Tuesday, the KMT can feel free to put it on the legislative agenda," Cheng said.

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