Wed, Dec 28, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Stalling of arms bill could make Taiwan `irrelevant'

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

The most important issue in US-Taiwan relations is the nation's long-stalled arms procurement bill which, if not passed, is likely to make Taiwan "irrelevant" to the US, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) said yesterday.

Speaking at his ministry's year-end press conference, Chen said Taiwan's legislature allowing the special defense budget to languish has led to what scholars are calling the "Taiwan Passing" phenomenon where Taiwan's voice is being marginalized in the US due to its inability to demonstrate the will to defend itself.

Chen said the procrastination over the arms procurement budget has led the US to perceive Taiwan as being "unpredictable" and "unreliable." Should Taiwan ultimately fail to pass the defense budget, Taiwan will be deemed "irrelevant," he warned.

The foreign minister said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration has done its best to compromise and that the people of Taiwan will have to make their own judgment on the issue.

He warned politicians to heed public opinion and not to overdo their boycott of the bill.

Chen said that he believes the opposition party is likely to make a compromise on the defense budget next month.

Regarding Taiwan's relations with its diplomatic allies, Chen said that the Vatican is an ally the ministry will likely lose as the core concern of the Holy See is to spread religious freedom.

"Only if Taiwan had a population of 1 billion and 80 million Catholics among them [could Taiwan keep the Vatican as an ally]," Chen joked in reference to China's vast population and the appeal it holds for the Vatican.

Regarding the ministry's priorities for next year, the foreign minister singled out the EU and the Middle East as the two areas on which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will focus its efforts.

Chen noted that Austria will become the EU president next month and said that it is important to see how Austria will tackle the sensitive issue of the arms embargo on China.

The energy-rich Middle East is also important to Taiwan strategically and many Middle Eastern countries have expressed interest in developing ties with Taiwan.

Due to the rise of China,Taiwan will attempt to strengthen ties with democratic countries such as the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, he said.

On the issue of the deadline President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) set for Taiwan to join the World Health Organization (WHO) expiring in May next year, the foreign minister said he is a lot more hopeful than in the past as many countries have not expressed their opposition to Taiwan receiving observer status.

Mark Chen said that in addition to the US and EU publicly backing Taiwan to participate in the WHO, Canada has also abandoned its "non-supportive" stance.

"The countries that I've visited during my nine foreign visits since I became [foreign] minister, have all agreed that it is not a problem that Taiwan should be able to become a member of the WHO," Mark Chen said.

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