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2004-06-02 20:45:53

    Taipei, June 2 (CNA) Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng will head a legislative delegation to visit the United States later this month to discuss arms procurement budget issues, political sources said Wednesday.

    The sources revealed the travel plan after the Cabinet passed a Ministry of National Defense-proposed budget plan at its weekly meeting to buy anti-missile defense systems, anti-submarine aircraft and diesel-powered submarines from the United States.

    The NT$610.8 billion (US$18.23 billion) budget proposal needs the opposition-controlled legislature's approval. Against this backdrop, the sources said, the United States has invited Wang to head a legislative delegation to visit Washington, D.C. as part of its efforts to lobby Taiwan lawmakers' support for the budget plan.

    In addition to Wang, the delegation will be composed of a representative from the legislative caucus of each political party as well as the three conveners of the Legislative Yuan's Defense Committee.

    The delegation is scheduled to leave Taipei June 17 or June 18, the sources said, adding that the itinerary has yet to be finalized.

    The sources said the delegation has yet to decide whether to visit Washington, D.C. first and then travel to Hawaii on the way back to Taipei or to visit Hawaii first and then travel to the U.S. capital. Hawaii is the seat of the U.S. Pacific Command. The visit will take about 10 days, the sources said.

    The proposed budget would cover six sets of Patriot Advanced Capability III anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft.

    Cabinet spokesman Chen Chi-mai said Taiwan's defense spending has dropped in recent years because of overall government budget cuts, which could weaken the island's defenses in the face of mounting military threats from mainland China. "Beijing has continued to boost it military spending in recent years, and we are worried about it," Chen said.

    The Cabinet proposed raising the needed funds by issuing bonds or selling government-owned stocks and land, Chen said.

    U.S. officials have complained that Taiwan has been taking too long to finalize the weapons procurement deals.

    Chen said the Patriot missiles would cost NT$145 billion (US$4.3 billion) , the submarines NT$412 billion (US$12.3 billion) and the anti-submarine aircraft NT$53 billion (US$1.5 billion).

    Opposition lawmakers have questioned if the Patriot missiles could effectively knock down mainland China's ballistic or cruise missiles, and have complained about the high costs of other weapons.

(By Sofia Wu)


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