25 Jul 05. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, TAIPEI, reported that Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on July 25 accused the opposition of acting “irresponsibly” in blocking a multi-billion dollar arms package in the face of a growing military threat from China. The bill calls for the purchase of $15 billion worth of weapons from the United States over a 15-year period. Chen said the bill had been shot down 26 times in the procedure committee of the opposition-controlled legislature since it was first submitted for approval in June last year.
”The opposition should have allowed the bill to be discussed by the committee. If they think the budget is unreasonable, then at least the bill should be put to a debate at the committee,” Chen told a gathering of Taiwanese businessmen.
”Now the opposition on the one hand blocked the bill at the procedure committee, but on the other hand alleged the government was the hurdle to the bill,” said Chen from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
”This doesn’t make sense at all. And it is irresponsible politically.”
Chen said Lien Chan, outgoing leader of the main opposition Kuomintang, should be aware of “the U.S. report … showing China’s continued arms build-up has tipped the military balance against Taiwan”.
The Pentagon, in a report last week, said China had deployed up to 730 ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan. It warned that Beijing’s defense build-up could tip the military balance against Taiwan and pose a credible threat to other countries in the region.
Relations between China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, have worsened since Chen was elected president in 2000, breaking the nationalist KMT’s 51-year rule. He was re-elected last year. President Chen called on the KMT leader to help push through the legislation so as to “strengthen Taiwan’s national security and stabilize regional peace”.
The remarks sparked a strong backlash from the KMT.
”As a matter of fact, Chen Shui-bian himself should shoulder the responsibility after he pushed through a referendum, which voted against the controversial arms deal,” KMT spokesman Chang Jung-kung said.
He was referring to the island’s first ever referendum, held in conjunction with presidential polls in March last year, during which voters rejected the government’s plan to build up its military defense capability against China.
The arms bill calls for the purchase of six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and a fleet of submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft from the United States over a 15-year period.
In December the legislature killed the original bill, which was priced at 610.8 billion Taiwan dollars ($19.33 billion), with some opposition lawmakers saying Taiwan could not afford it.
Others said the equipment would be delivered too slowly to enable Taiwan to catch up with China’s military build-up. An amended package valued at 480 billion Taiwan dollars failed to pass the legislature’s procedure committee, a necessary step before it can be heard in the full house. Defense Minister Lee Jye earlier this year urged legislators to approve the arms package, saying China would be strong enough to invade the island by 2020 without such a deterrent.