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ROC LAWMAKERS TO VISIT U.S. MILITARY BASES FOR ARMS PROCUREMENT PLAN

2004-06-14 20:29:11

    Taipei, June 14 (CNA) The United States will arrange for a group of Taiwan lawmakers to visit major U.S. military bases later this week to seek their support for a huge budget for Taiwan's new arms procurement projects, government sources said Monday.

    According to an itinerary revealed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the legislative delegation will also meet with senior officials of the U.S. National Security Council, the Department of State and the Department of Defense, in addition to visiting a U.S. P-3C anti-submarine aircraft base and a Patriot PAC-III missile base.

    At the U.S. invitation, the 14-member delegation of lawmakers from across the political spectrum, led by Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng, will leave for Hawaii Thursday.

    The delegation will first visit the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii to receive a briefing on the general regional security situation and visit a P-3C anti-submarine aircraft base.

    The delegation will then travel to Washington, D.C. via San Francisco. In the company of ROC Representative to the United States Chen Chien-Jen, the delegation will visit relevant U.S. administrative departments June 21 and exchange views with their senior officials on Taiwan's defense needs.

    On the following day, the delegation will be briefed on special functions of the weaponry systems that the United States intends to sell to Taiwan. The mission will also meet with U.S. congressmen before leaving for Texas June 24 to visit a U.S. Patriot PAC-III missile base. The delegation is scheduled to return to Taipei June 28.

    The Cabinet has approved a special military budget of NT$610.8 billion (US$18.2 billion) for the purchase of advanced weaponry from the United States amid mounting mainland Chinese military threats.

    The draft budget calls for the procurement of eight submarines, a modified version of the Patriot PAC-III anti-missile system and a squadron of 12 P3-C anti-submarine aircraft over a 15-year period starting in 2005. The United States offered to sell the military hardware to Taiwan in 2001 as part of its most comprehensive arms package to the island since 1992.

    The special budget bill is now pending approval of the opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan.

    As many lawmakers have criticized the proposed submarine procurement project as being too expensive, Defense Minister Lee Jye met with Legislative Yuan President Wang Monday to brief him on a new two-stage budget plan formula for the submarine deal.

    Lee said he hopes the legislature will pass the draft budget plan for the eight submarines first, to allow the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to negotiate detailed terms with the United States.

    The MND will furnish the legislature a more detailed budget plan after it comes to a conclusion with the U.S. authorities on how the eight submarines will be built, Lee said. There could be three options for construction of the submarines -- U.S. contractors could build them, they could cooperate with other foreign contractors, or they could cooperate with Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) . It has been estimated that the cost will increase by NT$80 billion if Taiwan insists on the CSBC participating in the construction.

    Wang said this two-stage budget plan formula might be more acceptable to lawmakers.

    Members of Wang's mission will include three legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, three from the opposition Kuomintang, four from the opposition People First Party, two from the Taiwan Solidarity Union and two independent lawmakers.

    The legislature went into summer recess last Friday and it remains uncertain whether the legislature will call an extra session to screen the draft arms procurement budget bill.

(By Sofia Wu)

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