Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 3 News List

MAC chief says arms budget is in national interest

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The NT$610.8 billion (US$18.25 billion) budget proposed by the Cabinet for purchasing arms from the US is essential for maintaining the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said yesterday.

With China rapidly upgrading its air and naval forces, the Legislative Yuan needs to approve the huge expenditure in order for the nation's military not to fall behind that of its giant rival, Wu told reporters at a tea party.

"We cannot lag behind China. Maintaining the military balance between Taiwan and China is the way to ensure peace in the Taiwan Strait," he said.

The massive scale of the defense budget has triggered heated debate in the legislature.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Chung-mo (林重謨), who earlier this week called Douglas Paal, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, a "vicious dog," held a press conference yesterday at which he had planned to discuss the budget.

The press conference -- originally called "Replace Paal if You Want the Legislature to Pass the Defense Budget," saw Lin, flanked by party leaders, apologize for his remarks rather than discuss the arms expenditure.

Wu, asked whether the government had earmarked funds for the defense budget under pressure from the US, said: "I don't feel any pressure from the US.

"But it is very inappropriate for Lin, a legislator, to call a top US diplomat in Taiwan that name," Wu said.

Though expressing support for the Ministry of Defense's budget proposal, Wu said that developing "offensive military capabilities" would not necessarily be advantageous.

Taiwan should concentrate on strengthening its defensive capabilities, Wu said.

Commenting on recent statements by Beijing, Wu said that a consistent "carrot and stick" tone reveals divisions among Chinese authorities about how to deal with the Taiwan issue.

"There seem to be two forces in Beijing wrangling over how to handle Taiwan. Beijing's statements betray its enormous efforts to try to yoke the two forces together," Wu said.

Saying that he has been working under "great pressure" since taking the helm at the MAC, the former deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office appealed to China not to misunderstand him.

Branded by Beijing as a member of a band of Taiwanese separatists, Wu said that Beijing will never really know him if it keeps emphasizing the independence question.

Recognizing the Beijing media's hostility toward him, Wu said that he is a "multifaceted man," adding: "They should not portray me as a stereotype [of a separatist]."

Repeating an earlier suggestion that Wang Daohan (汪道涵), chairman of China's semi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), visit Taiwan, Wu said that the MAC had begun preparations for Wang's trip.

"The council is preparing a set of issues to be talked about," Wu said. So far, ARATS has not responded to the invitation.

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