Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Chen stands up for his arms budget

HIGH PRICE The president wooed reporters with a guided tour of the nation's combat-ready submarines and an explanation of procurement priorities

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday defended a budget proposal allocating NT$618 billion (US$18.07 billion) for arms purchases from the US, saying the need to strengthen defensive capabilities should not be described as the price the nation has to pay to ensure support from the Bush administration.

"I respect and understand those who are opposed to the special procurement budget for purchasing advanced weaponry, as this is a democratic country" Chen said. "However, I completely disagree with their claim that the budget is the price that Taiwan must pay when asking for protection."

"The package of eight diesel submarines is at the top of the list of the military's 15-year weapons procurement plan," Chen said yesterday. "Some people say the plan is a result of pressure from the US government, but such a claim is far from the truth and not fair to the Bush administration."

Earlier in the day, Chen led reporters on a tour of submarines during amphibious exercises at the Tsoying base in Kaohsiung.

The Presidential Office then arranged a reception for Chen and reporters in Tainan County so he could explain why the submarines had to be bought.

Chen said that after US President George W. Bush was elected in 2000, the Bush administration suggested that Taiwan draw up a long-term plan for weapons purchases to mitigate China's perennial opposition to US-Taiwan arms deals.

After careful evaluation, Chen said, the Ministry of National Defense decided to make three items their priority -- the diesel submarines, land-based Patriot III missiles and P-3C Orion submarine-hunting aircraft. The government submitted the list to the US government in April 2001.

"We were surprised and delighted that the Bush administration approved our requests straight away," he said.

Chen said that the public considers the Aegis destroyers to be the most important purchase, but "the defense minister told me that the submarines were actually what Taiwan needed most."

Chen stressed that the Navy only had two competent submarines in operation, which was far less than what the military needed to patrol the Taiwan Strait.

"We only have four submarines, but two of them are actually antiques, so much so that I dare not ask you to inspect them," he told reporters.

To gain legislative support for the NT$610 billion procurement plan, Chen said the Cabinet was planning to spread the NT$610 billion budget over 15 years, meaning that the government only needed to allocate NT$40 billion per year.

"The annual NT$40 billion procurement budget combined with the annual NT$260 billion defense budget amounts to less than 3 percent of the gross domestic product, which is lower than Israel, Singapore and South Korea -- not to mention China," Chen said. "So, the budget for the military will obviously not encroach on social welfare, education or other areas of the budget."

Asked about US ties, Chen said that creating the conditions for substantial relations was much more important than if he would be able to visit Washington during his term in office.

"What I am concerned about is facilitating economic exchanges and trade and cooperating on international matters such as bringing about a free-trade agreement and signing other documents relating to international cooperation," Chen said.

"The public should not evaluate US-Taiwan ties based on the sole criterion of my visiting the US capital," he said.

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