Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Premier defends special US arms purchase proposal

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER IN CHIUFEN , TAIPEI COUNTY

The NT$610.8 billion (US$18.25 billion) arms budget the Cabinet is seeking from the legislature is necessary to prevent Beijing from launching a military assault against the island, Premier Yu Shyi-kun said yesterday.

"Of course we'd like to see the military budget take up as little of the annual budget as possible, but the premise has to be that national security is not in jeopardy," Yu told reporters yesterday in Chiufen.

The armed forces need more advanced US equipment if the nation aspires to maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific region, Yu said.

"How do we expect to safeguard the country if we're not well-armed?" the premier said. "We cannot solely rely on the US to protect us once Beijing launches a military attack."

While Taiwan has been cutting military spending, Yu said that China has made double-digit increases in its military budget every year since 1995.

The nation's military expenditures accounted for 24.3 percent of the total budget in 1994. They accounted for only 16.5 percent last year and dwindled to 15.1 percent in next year's annual budget proposed by the Cabinet.

Out of the Cabinet's proposed special budget of NT$610.8 billion, NT$412 billion would go for eight diesel-electric submarines, NT$145 billion would be allocated for six Patriot anti-missile systems and NT$53 billion for 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft. The money will be spent over the next 15 years.

The Cabinet has specified that Taiwanese companies be involved in building the eight submarines, though the US has said that doing so would drive up the cost substantially.

During a visit to the US in June to discuss Taiwan's arms procurement projects, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) requested the US government offer a new quote on the submarines.

Yu, who is scheduled to embark on a 12-day visit next Thursday to three diplomatic allies in Central America, said that it would be difficult for him to discuss the arms procurement plan with US officials during his upcoming trip because of the short length of his transit stopover in the US.

Although Yu said that it was a diplomatic norm to hear different viewpoints from opposition parties regarding the arms procurement plan, he said he felt sorry for opposition lawmakers who did not dare to criticize Beijing's military intimidation but berated the Cabinet for its budget proposal.

Yu cited recent examples of Beijing's bullying behavior against Taiwan, mentioning the Aboriginal pop diva Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹), better known as A-mei, and new Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍).

A-mei had originally cancelled a concert due to protests by students from Zhejiang University, who accused her of supporting Taiwan's independence.

A-mei eventually performed a controversial concert in Beijing last Saturday, where hecklers brought her to tears onstage.

Lee conducted a low-profile private visit to the nation in June before taking up his new role as Singapore's prime minister. China later threatened to delay talks on a free trade deal with Singapore in retaliation for Lee's visit.

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