Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Defense official pleased at prospect of budget increase

MILITARY SPENDING A ministry official welcomed the possibility of the increase, but would not comment on the arms procurement package

CNA , TAIPEI

The Ministry of National Defense looks forward to seeing the defense budget raised to 2.85 percent of GDP next year from this year's 2.51 percent, military spokesman Wu Chi-fang (吳季方) said.

Wu made the remarks on Sunday after People First Party (PFP) Legislator Ku Chung-lien (顧崇廉) said earlier that day that to the best of his understanding, the ministry intends to set aside an additional NT$10 billion (US$310.56 million) in next year's budget proposal to finance a long-stalled arms procurement package.

According to Ku, who once served as navy commander-in-chief, the ministry has referred its proposal to the Executive Yuan for approval.

Wu would not comment on Ku's remarks. He instead said the ministry would prefer to see next year's defense budget rise to 2.85 percent of GDP, and further increase to 3 percent in 2008.

As to the exact increase in next year's defense budget, Wu said, it was up to the Executive Yuan.

Quoting President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) comments in the recently released National Security Strategy Report, in which he said he hoped the defense budget could be raised to 3 percent of GDP for 2008, Wu said the 3 percent ratio should be a government policy goal.

Wu also refused to comment on Ku's statement that PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) had agreed to a cross-party consensus on the deadlocked arms procurement package and that it would be announced soon.

Soong previously voiced strong objections to the arms package, claiming that the price was too high.

Wu said all three weapons systems in the arms package are badly needed to beef up defense capabilities in the face of China's intensified military buildup against Taiwan.

"The package was worked out after a long-term professional assessment of our defense needs. It is by no means a `spendthrift' or wasteful package," Wu said, adding that the ministry keenly hoped that politics wouldn't hobble legislative deliberation of the package.

Wu was referring to a ministry proposal on the special arms procurement bill that, if passed, would allow it to procure three big-ticket weapons -- a squadron of 12 anti-missile P-3C aircraft, three Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and eight diesel-electric submarines -- from the US through a special budget.

The opposition-controlled legislature has stonewalled the controversial bill, saying that financing the arms package through a special budget would hinder legislative supervision, and that the items were outdated.

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