Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Defense minister determined to fight on

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Damn it. I want to quit my job," the Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) told legislators last week.

The admiral lost his temper on learning that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would likely delay its negotiations with the government on the arms bill proposing to procure three weapon systems from the US, a move most likely prompted by the government's decision to cease the National Unification Council and its guidelines last month.

Lee had hoped that the KMT would at least agree to the purchase of P-3C Orion maritime-patrol aircraft, but KMT lawmakers have threatened to continue to boycott the bill in its entirety.

"We are making no progress and I am wasting my time here [in the legislature]," Lee told the first national defense committee meeting of the new legislative session last week.

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) had made a number of presentations on why the nation's defense forces require the three advanced weapons systems during past legislative sessions, but it found that the arms procurement proposal was still no closer to being approved.

The bitterly disappointed minister, who is known as a blunt and outspoken man, could be forgiven for losing his patience over the matter.

But while Lee often quarrels with lawmakers in the legislature, they still respect him as a man who speaks his mind and bears no grudges.

"You are a big-hearted guy," lawmakers several times told Lee.

And perhaps because of the minister's straightforward reputation, Lee enjoys the confidence of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

His personality hasn't always gelled with those of his supervisors, however, and Lee had a troubled relationship with former MND ministers Wu Shih-wen (伍世文) and Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明), a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Taipei Times.

"They have different views and ideas on how to run the military," added the official.

While then chief of the Navy Lee wanted to buy Kidd-class destroyers, Wu, a former naval admiral and then MND minister, asserted the navy should procure AEGIS-class warships, the official said.

He said Lee, then chief of the general Staff, also disagreed with then MND minister Tang on how to restructure the military academies.

Although the military officials disagreed on a number of defense issues, no one doubted Lee's sincere commitment to national defense.

Lee, 66, who was in charge of bringing one of the two Zwaardvis-class submarines home from Holland, is known as an expert in submarine operations and anti-submarine warfare.

He has in the past served as commander of the navy's submarine fleet as well as the leader of the service's anti-submarine command.

Nicknamed "War-fighter" in the navy, Lee has said that he does not favor a purely defensive military.

There are unconfirmed reports that during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the then chief of the Navy Nelson Ku (顧崇廉) had to warn Lee, who was head of the Navy Fleet Command at the time, to avoid provoking China.

Indeed, Lee's insistence on moving ahead with plans to buy eight submarines -- one of the most controversial items in the budget proposal for both the pan-blue camp and some critics in the US -- reflects his agreement with Chen on the need to build a strategic force for this country.

Lee, a fighter throughout his career, remains determined to defend Taiwan against the military threat from China.

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