Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Defense ministry pushes legislators to expand budget

NATIONAL DEFENSE The ministry said current funds do not cover weapons or maintaining troops and that a shortfall had to be filled to maintain security

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

Taiwan's defense budget must be expanded as expenditure will exceed the proposed NT$1.67 trillion (US$49.35 billion) budget over the next five years, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.

In the ministry's latest national defense buildup assessment report submitted to the Legislative Yuan yesterday for approval, it was argued that the defense budget had to be increased due to the need to acquire advanced weapons to beef up the country's self-defense capabilities and maintain the strength of the armed forces.

The Executive Yuan's annual budget proposal for national defense, if passed by the Legislative Yuan, would still be about NT$380 billion (US$11.2 billion) short of the NT$1.29 trillion regular budget the Executive Yuan has approved, the report indicated.

In addition, an extra NT$242 billion will be required in the following five years for the procurement of advanced weapon systems from the US -- including eight diesel-powered submarines, 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft and six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile batteries -- which is not included in the NT$1.67 trillion budget plan for regular yearly defense expenditures, the ministry said.

Financing for the procurement of the submarines, anti-submarine aircraft and anti-missile batteries has been arranged through a planned NT$610.8 billion special arms procurement budget. The passage of the special budget would make up the shortfall.

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) said a day earlier that if the NT$610.8 billion special budget can be passed by the Legislative Yuan and carried out smoothly, the military strength of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will remain roughly balanced for the next three decades. Otherwise, he said, China will be able to attack Taiwan in two to three years.

On the planned arms purchase from the US, the Executive Yuan yesterday said that it does not rule out the possibility of holding public discussions similar to the just-concluded Youth National Affairs Conference (青年國是會議) to discuss sensitive issues such as weapons procurement.

"Our stance on arms procurement is clear," Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as saying during a press conference held after the weekly closed-door Cabinet meeting yesterday morning.

"That is, it requires rational discussion and open debate to decide the necessity of such a plan and the reasonable amount of money to spend on it," Chen said.

Although a consensus reached in such public debates would not be legally binding, Chen said that it would serve as a pivotal reference during the government's decision-making process.

Yu made the remarks during the Cabinet meeting, after a briefing on the conference presented by National Youth Commission Chairwoman Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君). The conference, held for the first time between Sept. 17 and Sept. 19, is to become an annual event.

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