Sun, Mar 21, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Campaign Special ( Referendum ) - Military purchases will continue despite vote

Only 45.17 percent of voters took part in the referendum about beefing up defenses against China's ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

An 87-year-old woman in Keelung City, northern Taiwan, casts her referendum ballot yesterday.

PHOTO: LU HSIEN-HSIU, TAIPEI TIMES

The referendum on the need for the country to beef up its anti-missile equipment in the face of the ballistic missile threat from China did not pass because less than half of the electorate took part.

The Central Election Commission said only 45.17 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on the first question, or 7.4 million people.

The referendum results, therefore, will have no binding effects on the Ministry of National Defense in the purchase of anti-missile equipment.

However, the majority of people who cast ballots on the question supported the thesis that the country should increase its purchases of anti-missile equipment to counter China's missiles.

A total of 6.5 million voters supported an increase in anti-missile purchases, while only half a million were against it, the commission said.

The results showed that although only one-half of the turnout were interested in the referendum, those that did take part were on the side of the government.

The defense ministry did not make any comment on the referendum results.

A senior official with the ministry's spokesman's office said Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) has already expressed the ministry's stance on the issue.

"Tang stated several weeks ago that whatever the results of the referendum, the ministry will not change its plans to buy the US-made Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile system," the official said.

The Patriot PAC-3 system is the main one the ministry plans to buy to counter China's increasing missile threat.

Tang was criticized for making an "improper" statement, since his comment raised the question of whether the referendum question was necessary since the results would not have a binding effect on the ministry.

Tang later rephrased his statement, saying he was referring to anti-missile equipment which the ministry had yet to decide to buy. The PAC-3 was not included because it is an item the ministry has already decided to buy.

Keven Cheng (鄭繼文), editor-in-chief of Defence International magazine, said he did not think the referendum would have any effect on the ministry regardless of whether it passed or not.

"Whether to buy anti-missile equipment such the PAC-3 is not so much an issue for public discussion as a problem for the government itself. The government's concern should be whether it has enough money to buy the PAC-3 or whether the purchase of the PAC-3 might edge out other equipment," Cheng said.

Andrew Yang (楊念祖), secretary-general of Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, said the anti-missile referendum was justifiable but whether public opinion should be consulted about arms purchases have yet to be debated.

"The referendum result would not have any effects on China in its deployment of ballistic missiles against us. But it represents a collective public statement of Taiwan," Yang said.

The referendum was based on the premise that if China does not withdraw its missiles targeted at Taiwan and not renounce the use of force against the country, the government should consider increasing its anti-missile equipment.

Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) first proposed the withdrawal of missiles aimed at Taiwan in exchange for the US not selling high-tech weapons to Taiwan.

"Jiang's proposal was a bargaining chip toward both the US and Taiwan. What he wanted from Taiwan was a reassurance that it would not push for independence," Yang said.

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