DPP ASKS FOR SPEEDY PASSAGE OF ARMS PROCUREMENT BUDGET
Taipei, July 1 (CNA) A legislator of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) claimed Thursday that it is "meaningless" to argue about the cost of arms procurements from the United States and that the most urgent task is to pass the budget early so as to let the Ministry of National Defense (MND) negotiate a reasonable price with the United States.
The legislator made the remarks after legislators from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) called a press conference to stress that they will be strict in reviewing the arms procurement budget and to claim that if the idea of Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) takes part in the building of eight submarines -- part of the proposed NT$610.8 billion (US$18.23 billion) arms procurement package -- is scrapped, the deal could be cut at least by NT$200 billion.
Tseng Yung-chuan, executive director of the KMT's Central Policy Committee, said that the KMT and the PFP support arms procurements, but will not allow Taiwan to pay over-inflated prices.
In view of the cross-strait situation, the United States also has to deliver them ahead of the scheduled time, Tseng said.
PFP Legislator Lin Yu-fang alleged that the U.S. officials are trying to give a "virtual" quotation to force Taiwan to give up the plan to allow CSBC's participation in the building of the submarines.
Lin said that if the Executive Yuan foregoes CSBC's participation, then the eight submarines should be worth at most NT$220 billion, compared with the proposed budget of NT$412.1 billion.
Lin disagreed with the view held by the DPP and the MND that the arms deal could be cut by just NT$100 billion if the CSBC is excluded from the construction.
Tsai Huang-liang, DPP whip at the Legislative Yuan, said that the MND has asked the United States to give a new, "more reasonable" quotation on the arms deal. "The ruling and the opposition parties should not be at loggerheads over the price tag. Instead, they should authorize the MND to solicit a reasonable selling price from the United States, as well as compare the price with that charged by the United States to other countries."
Tsai said that the ruling and the opposition parties may have differences over Taiwan's participation in the construction of the submarines and said that this may not be the best policy for Taiwan, but at least the CSBC should be allowed to have repair and maintenance capabilities.
He said the opposition parties could cut the arms procurement budget to let the MND proceed with bargaining with the United States over the deal, or they could pass the proposed budget and then return any excess money to the national coffers.
Meanwhile, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who recently led a legislative delegation on a fact-finding trip to the United States, said that the arms deal has room for further cuts.
Wang said that he has yet to speak to President Chen Shui-bian about his trip since his return from the U.S.
He said that the MND has now asked the United States for a new quotation for the submarines. The first new quotation will be with the CSBC taking part in the construction, and the second will be with no direct participation, but allowing the CSBC to have maintenance and testing capacity. "If the CSBC cannot take part in the building, it should be allowed to participate in testing and maintenance, and there is room for further cuts in excess of NT$100 billion," he added.
The Legislative Yuan has proposed the special military budget of NT$610.8 billion for the purchase of the eight submarines, a modified version of the Patriot PAC-III anti-missile system and a squadron of 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft from the United States 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 is now pending approval by the opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan.
(By Lilian Wu)
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