Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) said yesterday that if the US does not approve Taiwan’s arms procurement package, not only would it affect the nation’s defense capability but it would also lead other democratic countries to cast doubt on US pledges and its ability to promote democracy.
Chen, who is attending a defense industry conference in the US, told reporters that while the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is committed to improving relations with China, it puts national security first, and Taiwan needs a strong defense capability to negotiate from a position of strength.
Failure to upgrade Taiwan’s air force would cause a military imbalance between Taiwan and China, he said.
If Taiwan were to fall to China, it would break the chain of islands that make up the US’ forward line of defense in the region, he said.
Chen said the budget for buying F-16 aircraft had been approved by the legislature.
However, if the current arms sales package is not approved by the US, the budget would have to be resubmitted, and it is not certain that the funds would be available next time, he said.
Taiwan is seeking to buy seven weapons systems from the US — anti-tank missiles, Apache helicopters, Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries, diesel-electric submarines, P3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, sea-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Black Eagle helicopters.
The US State Department on Friday told Taiwanese media based in Washington that the arms procurement package was still under interdepartmental screening by the administration and that it would notify Congress immediately when it reaches a decision.
Congress was scheduled to enter into recess last Friday, but it was postponed for a week because of the deadlock over a US$700 billion bailout package for Wall Street.
Chen, who will also visit Taiwanese naval and air force officers being trained in California and Arizona, is the first Taiwanese defense minister to travel to the US since 2002, when Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) attended a similar conference in Texas.
In Taipei, Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokeswoman Major General Lisa Chi (池玉蘭) said the ministry’s resolve and stance on the arms package remains unchanged as it awaits the US administration’s decision.
The ministry is still hopeful that Washington will agree to sell the weapons systems to Taiwan, even though Congress will soon go into recess, she said.
“It has not yet come to the last moment,” she said. “We of course are still cautiously optimistic and hold out hope that the arms package will be approved.”
Although Congress is now focused on the bailout, it could also deal with other items during the session, possibly including the arms procurement package, she said.
On whether the ministry has a backup plan if the arms procurement package was stalled or scrapped, Chi said the ministry had prepared contingent measures to help build up the nation’s defense.
The cautious optimism contrasted with media reports that the arms package had no chance of passage this year.
Although a post-session notification is legal, it seems highly likely that the package will be left to the next US administration to deal with.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chu Fong-chih (朱鳳芝) yesterday said the stalled arms sales were a result of the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration’s constant provocation of the US when it was in office.