DEFENSE MINISTER EXPLAINS NEED FOR COSTLY U.S ARMS PURCHASE
Taipei, July 2 (CNA) Minister of National Defense Lee Jye Friday explained the armed forces' rational for requesting the purchase of US$610.8 billion (US$18.23 billion) in weaponry from the United States, arguing that the materiel is vital for Taiwan's security.
In a briefing to local media, Lee said mainland China has doubled its defense budgets in recently years, which is all the more important given that Beijing has never backed away from its stance that it would resort to force to bring Taiwan under the wing of the mainland under certain conditions.
Although Beijing listed its 2003 defense budget as 185.3 billion renminbi (US$22.4 billion) , its actually military expenditure is estimated by the United States at two or three times that if budgets for concealed non-military departments are figured in. Some analysts have put the actual budget as high as six times the figure officially released by Beijing, Lee said.
If mainland China's actual defense budget in 2003 is three times what Beijing claims, that would be eight times Taiwan's defense budget in 2003, Lee said.
What is more alarming, the minister said, is Taiwan's defense budget as a percentage of gross domestic product, which has fallen from 3.5 percent in 1995 to 2.49 percent in 2004.
The sharp contrast between the mainland and Taiwan in their defense spending growth has tipped the balance of strength to the mainland and the NT$610.8 billion arms purchase is aimed at addressing this imbalance, Lee said.
The deal that includes the purchase of anti-submarine airplanes, diesel submarines and patriot missiles is urgently needed by the country, Lee said.
The price of the deal will be paid over 15 years, which translates to NT$40 billion each year in addition to the regular defense budget of about NT$260 billion per year.
This would bring the budget to about NT$300 billion per year, which is still less than 3 percent of GDP. This would not put any constraints on the government's other budgets, nor would it burden other major projects, Lee said.
Lee said he appreciated the public's concern about the country's defense as shown by the fierce debate among politicians and ordinary people about the wisdom of concluding the arms deal, but he said an armed forces equipped with adequate weapons systems to ensure the security of the people is indispensable for any country. Lee said he hopes that the public can see the need for the arms and stand behind the purchase program.
(By Maubo Chang)
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