The legislature must approve a special budget to buy US weapons or risk sending a message that the nation's partisan politics trump more pressing issues like national defense, a high-ranking US official has said.
The unusually frank warning came from Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless to business leaders during a meeting that was closed to the media. A copy of Lawless' speech was obtained yesterday by reporters under the US Freedom of Information Act.
"The passage of this budget is a litmus test of Taiwan's commitment to its self defense," Lawless said in his Oct. 4 address to the US-Taiwan Business Council in America.
A few weeks after Lawless spoke, the legislature decided to not vote yet on the arms package, worth NT$610 billion (US$18 billion). The issue could come up again when the legislature reconvenes after Dec. 11 legislative elections.
The arms deal has become a hot campaign topic with the opposition arguing that the weapons -- including planes, submarines and anti-missile systems -- are too expensive and will spark an arms race with China.
The Democratic Progressive Party said the weapons are essential for fending off an attack by China.
Lawless said the weapons posed an important test for Taiwan's young democracy.
"We believe that a vote against the budget risks sending the message that Taiwan's democracy has not matured to the point where national security trumps partisan politics," he said at the meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.
US weapons sales to Taiwan have infuriated China, and Beijing has warned that arming Taipei increases the likelihood of war. In recent years, the US has been the only major nation willing to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan.
Lawless said a failure to pass the arms budget will tell "Beijing that intimidation is an excellent tool of statecraft. And you will guarantee that Taiwan will experience more of the same."
The US has helped defend Taiwan before and many expect that it will do so again if China attacks. But Lawless said many Americans suspect Taiwan isn't committed to its own defense.
He said that if lawmakers don't pass the arms budget, "friends and foes alike may well begin to regard Taiwan as a liability, rather than a partner."