Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Lee defends arms budget

HEATED DEBATE The defense minister went on the offensive during a question-and-answer session at the legislature, staking his career on the approval of the deal

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCY

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye, right, and Premier Yu Shyi-kun, left, defended the government's arms-procurement budget during a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Yuan yesterday. Lee said he would resign if the legislature rejected the arms budget this session.

PHOTO: SUNG CHIH-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) yesterday vowed to resign if the legislature rejects the government's arms procurement budget this session.

Lee said that winning approval of the NT$610 billion (US$18.2 billion) arms deal with the US may be the most difficult mission in his career, and he stressed that the Ministry of National Defense will continue to communicate with those who oppose the deal.

"The ministry has never experienced such an agony over any arms deal," Lee said in response to a lawmaker's question at the Legislative Yuan.

During a heated question-and- answer session at the legislature yesterday, Lee and Premier Yu Shyi-kun were repeatedly challenged by opposition legislators about arms budget.

More than 100 retired generals have signed a petition opposing the arms package, warning it will heighten cross-strait tensions and force an arms race.

Organizers of an anti-arms purchase rally scheduled for today have accused defense officials of pressuring the retired generals to keep quiet.

Lee denied the charge, saying the ministry only explained its policy to the ex-generals.

"I don't agree with the anti-arms deal protest, and the ministry has assigned senior military officials to explain the government's policy to those retired generals who signed a petition," Lee said.

People First Party (PFP) Legislator Chin Huei-chu (秦慧珠), dressed in a US Air Force uniform, asked whether Lee agreed with Yu's criticizing the retired generals for having national identity issues.

"I would rather believe that they all love Taiwan and Premier Yu was expected to say something to encourage the ministry," Lee said.

"I can understand their idea of wanting to avoid a vicious arms race between two sides of the Taiwan Strait, but the basis for their appeal -- that China retract its military invasion threat -- doesn't exist," Lee said.

Lee told the lawmakers that he was opposed to the idea of a referendum on the arms deal.

Chin accused the defense ministry of having an "ostrich mind-set" about the arms deal -- hiding its head in the mud and pretending nothing was wrong -- because it was afraid of communicating with the people.

She urged Lee to assign representatives to debate the arms budget with those opposed to the deal.

"We will do our best to defend the policy but we will not join any public debate," Lee said angrily.

"You call me an ostrich ... actually the entire military should act as an ostrich ... the military has done and talked too much already," he said.

Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Liao Ben-yan (廖本煙) asked Lee to comment on the generals who signed the petition opposing the arms deal.

Lee said the ministry was confident of persuading the generals to support the government's policy.

"If they remain opposed to the arms procurement budgets or attend the protest, then it must because they have non-military professional concerns," Lee said.

In other developments, the Democratic Advancement Alliance (DAA) and the Anti-Arms Purchasing Alliance -- the organizers of today's protest -- held a press conference yesterday to urge the public to attend the rally.

Anti-Arms Purchasing Alliance convener Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) said the nation's four major religions have promised to send representatives to the protest and rally.

Pastor Chow Lien-hwa (周聯華), who attended the press conference, said that he hoped Taiwan would not enter an arms race. He said he was willing to pray for the nation during the rally.

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