Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers yesterday accused President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of allowing Taiwan’s military to languish through budget cuts, as highlighted in a recent cable released by WikiLeaks.
The Taipei Times reported on the leaked US diplomatic cable on Sunday that outlined a list of “commitments” by Ma, including one not to request certain weapons systems as part of a -“surprise-free” approach to relations with the US.
The cable, from the US embassy in Bangkok on March 20, 2009, did not elaborate on the types of weapons, but critics believe this was a reference to F-16C/D fighter aircraft and diesel-electric submarines, two items that have long been on Taipei’s shopping list.
“The president appears willing to make a set of promises abroad, but hide them from the Taiwanese public,” DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said. “Making this sort of commitment while pressing for [major arms purchases] at the same time is a major deception.”
During a press conference, DPP lawmakers said the cable lent credibility to claims that Ma had not been candid about his relationships with China and the US.
This raises questions as to whether other commitments have been made, especially on defense, they said.
“We are deeply concerned that Ma doesn’t have the determination to defend Taiwan,” DPP Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said.
The criticism comes amid controversy over a string of budget cuts that have reduced Taiwan’s defense spending to a five-year low this year. Despite an election promise by Ma to raise defense spending to 3 percent of GDP, only 2.2 percent of GDP was allocated to defense this year.
“Defense spending has come steadily down since 2008, which is occurring amid rising personnel costs,” DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said. “This means we are paying more for people rather than [investing] in fighting capabilities.”
Yeh said the cuts had weakened Taiwan’s military, a move that could impact the nation’s relations with the US.
Responding to the criticism, Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) denied the existence of a secret deal between Taiwan and the US to limit arms sales.
The Chinese-language Apple Daily on Tuesday quoted an anonymous source as saying that the three commitments made by Ma to Washington at the beginning of his administration had resulted in Taiwan missing out on the chance to purchase F-16C/D jets.
In a press statement late on Tuesday, the ministry elaborated on the second commitment, saying Taiwan would not “hastily” ask for weapons just to show that the US would sell them to Taiwan, adding that arms requests would be based on security needs.
“Media reports saying that Ma promised the US that he would not request certain weapons systems are inconsistent with the facts and have distorted the contents of the cable,” it said.
Talking to reporters yesterday, Yang said Taiwan had a basic understanding with the US that Taipei’s requests for military items, weapons types and quantities were assessed on an as-needed basis.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Lo Shao-ho (羅紹和) said Taiwan had presented letters of intent to the US on the F16-C/Ds on three occasions, the latest being on Feb. 15, 2007.
The reason Taiwan did not present any subsequent letters of intent was because the US government had yet to decide on the request, Lo said.