Young praised, vilified by parties

MIXED REACTION: While pan-blue politicians condemned the AIT head's comments urging passage of the arms bill, ruling officials lauded Young for his candid statement

By Mo Yan-chih, Jimmy Chuang and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 3

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young's comments on Thursday drew heated criticism from opposition parties yesterday, but some political heavyweights also came out in defense of the US representative's blunt statement.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he understood Young's comments, but suggested that the AIT director choose his words with care if he wanted to facilitate the passage of the long-stalled arms procurement bills in the Legislative Yuan.

"It would be a big help for the arms bills if [Young] had chosen a more euphemistic mode of expression or self-restraint," Ma said.

While arguing that the KMT has always been supportive of a "reasonable" arms budget, Ma said that passage of the bill depends on the nation's defense needs, finances, cross-strait relations and public opinion, and the US should respect the right of the Legislative Yuan to review the bill.

"The Republic of China is a sovereign country ... The right of the Legislative Yuan to review the bill should be respected," Ma said in a meeting with the press. "[The KMT] will support the bill if it's necessary. National defense concerns everybody, and our stance should not be influenced by an AIT representative."

Thanking the US for its concern over Taiwan's defense and security in Asia, Ma said that the KMT takes the issue of national defense seriously and had said last month that it would handle this issue in the current legislative session.

The KMT and People First Party (PFP) caucuses have agreed not deal with the bill until Prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁) concludes his investigation into the corruption scandals surrounding the president and his family, Ma said, adding that there was still time for the bill to be reviewed after the prosecutor's investigative reports are released around the middle of next month.

KMT caucus whip Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) yesterday told the press that Young's comments had interfered with the nation's internal affairs and might influence the public's perception of the arms bills.

The PFP also condemned Young for what it called "improper comments."

PFP caucus whip Yang Cheng Chin-ling (鄭金玲) said at a press conference that the PFP would recommend that the US recall Young, and that it would initiate a motion in the legislature that Young be declared persona non grata.

Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀), director of the PFP's policy coordination department, said the caucus would demand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoke the AIT official's diplomatic immunity if Young does not apologize by next week for his comments on the arms procurement deal and the opposition parties' behavior during the Double Ten National Day celebrations.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Charles Chiang (江昭儀), who is president of the interparliamentary group that serves as a liaison between the US Congress and the Legislative Yuan, said his group supported Young's comments because "the US is still obliged to defend Taiwan's security" under its Taiwan Relations Act.

He said that although the arms purchase bill is considered an internal issue, Young was also addressing the diplomatic issue between Taiwan and the US. Young's comments therefore did not violate Taiwan's sovereignty, he said.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) told a press conference that he appreciated Young's comments and that he would "do his best" to coordinate between parties to pass the bills.

Wang added, however, that Taiwan is an independent country and the passage or review of any bill should be left to the legislature.

As to whether or not the legislature would pass the arms procurement deal by the end of this year, Wang said he would not make a judgment call but that he would continue to look for "proper timing" to coordinate relations between the governing and opposition parties.

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) told reporters that Young's comments simply highlighted the problem.

"Young is very friendly to Taiwan. He cares about the relationship between Taiwan and the US a lot," Su said when approached by reportersfor a comment.

"He pointed out where the problem is. However, the problem could be solved as soon as our legislature approves this proposal," Su said.

Su added that the US government approved the proposed arms sales more than five years ago. It is quite embarrassing that the Taiwanese government could not repay this favor because the budget is still pending at the legislature, he said.

"It is like ... we did some grocery shopping but did not pay our bills and our debt has been outstanding for five years," Su said.

He also mentioned that the military has not upgraded its weapons system over the past five years, while the Chinese military has kept increasing its annual budget.

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) admitted to reporters that he had felt pressure from the US government starting about six months ago.

Everybody should take Young's comments seriously and figure out a solution instead of continuing to argue about this issue, he said.

"I am not trying to scare everybody. But, think about it, the Chinese navy claim that they will have at least three aircraft carriers by 2020. What about us? How are we going to defend ourselves?" Lee asked.

Former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德), the leader of campaign to oust President-Chen-Shui-bian (陳水扁), condemned Young for "ignoring the will of hundreds of thousands of anti-Chen protesters and making irresponsible comments on Taiwan's internal affairs."

"This is interfering with domestic policies and an offense against the 23 million Taiwanese people," Shih said.

Urging both legislators and the public alike "not to succumb to Young's threat," Shih called on the people of Taiwan and overseas Taiwanese to issue a protest against Young.