Mon, Nov 01, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Legislators debate over weapons deal

WAR AND PEACE In a televised debate, the two lawmakers considered to be the most vocal advocates and opponents to the arms procurement plan sparred over its merits

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

While Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) insisted the proposed arms deal with the US was necessary to maintain cross-strait peace, People First Party (PFP) lawmaker Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) would not back down from his position that the cost was unreasonable as two engaged in a public debate on the deal yesterday.

Lee and Lin were invited to CTS yesterday for a televised debate. CNA news wire journalist Luo Kuang-jen (羅廣仁), and Cheng Chi-wen (鄭繼文) editor-in-chief of Defense International acted as questioners.

Taiwan is planning to spend NT$610.8 billion (US$18 billion) over the next 15 years to purchase diesel submarines, P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and Patriot anti-missile systems from the US.

Since Lee and Lin are the two most vocal lawmakers on the legislature's National Defense Committee, they have been seen as the two unofficial spokesmen for and against the plan.

While Lee yesterday appealed to the public for a strong national defense, Lin argued that the US was trying to rip Taiwan off -- but said he did not in principle oppose the arms deal.

The two mainly argued about the cost of the submarines. Lee said that there was the potential to bring down the submarine budget by NT$100 billion, but Lin countered by saying NT$200 billion was merely a conservative estimate.

Lin opened his argument by saying that the cost was too high, saying that the next generation will be burdened by the purchase.

"The US has told us that we only have to spend NT$36 billion more if we try to assemble the submarines locally, but the Ministry of National Defense told us that it would cost NT$72 billion more," Lin said.

"There is also the issue of the Patriot anti-missile system. We have been demanding the Patriot system's performance information from the US, but they have refused to give it to us. How can we buy the system before we know how well it works?" Lin said.

But Lee countered by saying all the purchases were necessary to maintain the military balance of power between Taiwan and China.

"If we want to avoid war, we need a strong national defense to ensure that," Lee said in his opening speech.

"If the US is willing to defend Taiwan, why aren't the Taiwanese?" Lee asked.

Lin then pointed out that the if China Shipbuilding Corp (CSBC) should assemble the submarines locally, which would save NT$180 billion. If the submarines were assembled overseas, the budget could be cut ny NT$190 billion.

Lin was quoting figures provided by a German submarine expert who was invited to make a cost evaluation.

"If we want to assemble the submarines locally, the CSBC only needs to spend US$11 billion to improve its equipment," Lin said.

But Lee rebuked Lin's statement, saying that the information provided by the CSBC was unreliable. He said the CSBC gave him completely different numbers.

Although Lin scolded the US for refusing to provide comprehensive information for Patriot anti-missile system, he also invoked US Secretary of the State Colin Powell's recent remarks to berate the governing party.

"Aside from military power, we can seek to resolve the disputes between Taiwan and China through diplomacy. We can try to restart negotiations with China under the principle of "one China," with each side having its own interpretation," Lin said.

"When a small power tries to fight a big power, it needs intervention form a third party. But the DPP government has been lousy with diplomacy. That is why the DPP administration was admonished by Powell," Lin said.

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