Sun, Aug 31, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Ma pledges to strengthen defense

By Ko Shu-Ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday promised to continue arms purchases from the US and improve national defense one day after a Cabinet budget proposal showed a cut in funding for the Ministry of National Defense (MND).

Ma said improving cross-strait relations was not equivalent to abandoning national defense, adding that the nation must strengthen its military capabilities and remain prepared for combat.

“However, readying for combat does not mean engaging in war, but rather preventing one,” he said. “Only if the nation has strong defense capabilities can it negotiate with China from a position of strength.”

COMING SOON

He also expressed optimism that the US government would complete legal procedures for stalled arms sales to Taiwan.

Ma said his administration would continue to purchase defensive weapons from the US and that all signs indicated the White House would soon ask Congress to complete legal procedures for seven items Taiwan has requested from Washington.

Ma said he wanted to pursue peace, promote reconciliation and seek cooperation on questions of diplomacy and national defense.

“But this requires the concerted efforts of both sides,” he said. “If they are willing to do so, I am willing to move a step forward.”

Ma made the remarks while addressing retired generals and military leaders at the Military Officers’ Club in Taipei to mark Armed Forces Day.

VOLUNTEER SOLDIERS

Ma touted his campaign pledge to completely replace the conscription system with volunteers, saying it would improve the quality of the armed forces.

“We will protect the 23 million people of Taiwan against our potential enemy,” he said. “I promise to exert myself to continue to protect Taiwan.”

Ma’s address followed the release of the Cabinet’s national defense budget proposal on Friday. A total of NT$315.2 billion (US$10.17 billion) would be allocated to the MND next year — NT$10.4 billion lower than this year’s figure.

The MND said it would continue to push to end conscription next year as part of an effort to reform national defense and restructure the armed forces.

The budget proposed reducing the number of military personnel to 275,000, including 250,000 on the regular payroll, by the end of this year.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA

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