DEFENSE BUDGET CHANGES 'A GRUELING DECISION': DEFENSE MINISTER LEE
ROC Central News Agency
Taipei, Aug. 30 (CNA) Minister of National Lee Jye said Tuesday it has been a "grueling" experience for him to decide to use the regular budget to purchase badly needed Patriot III anti-missile batteries from the United States.
He warned that the decision, which has yet to win Legislative Yuan approval, will exclude a total of 53 new investment projects that his ministry had planned for fiscal 2006, thus delaying the implementation of a pivotal ministry program to raise the armed forces' combat capability.
The opposition parties' obstinate resistance was behind Lee's painful decision to remove the purchase of the anti-missile weaponry from a special budget bill that still includes funds for the other two big-ticket items -- submarines and anti-submarine aircraft.
The initial special budget, totalling NT$610.8 billion, has been lowered to NT$480 billion to placate the "pan-blue alliance" of the Kuomintang, the People First Party (PFP) and the New Party. With the latest changes, NT$340 billion remains in the special budget to buy submarines and anti-submarine aircraft, according to the minister.
The budget for the anti-missile batteries, totalling around NT$140 billion, will be evened out over the next six to eight years in the ministry's annual budgets, official sources said. An assistant to defense critic Lin Yu-fang, a PFP lawmaker, would not comment on this on the grounds that his office has not seen the budget details for the ministry.
Lee told the media on the eve of Reporters' Day, which falls on Sept. 1, that if he had decided to move one more of the two remaining items to the regular budget, Taiwan's armed forces would not be able to carry out any new projects in the next eight years; if all three items were to be financed by the regular budget, the same thing would be true over the next 10 years, "causing irreversible damage to our national defence."
He said the biggest threat that Communist China poses to Taiwan is "missile attacks plus a submarine blockade, " which is also the most economic and effective way for China to conquer Taiwan. The three new weapons that his ministry has been asking the legislature to help acquire are exactly aimed at ensuring that Taiwan will not be paralyzed by China's missile attacks or sealed off by a submarine blockade, he said.
He cited U.S. and Japanese concerns about China's rising military power to try to convince his fellow countrymen that China's growing military threats, backed by its rising economic strength, are real and that his ministry's decision to purchase the three defensive weapons was made through "very strict" assessments and evaluations.
The defense ministry managed to cut NT$21.8 billion from the budget from land procurements, back-up parts and components, infrastructure building, telecommunications equipment, maintenance of transport vehicles and other transportation costs. More substantive cuts come from cancelling a project to cooperate with foreign countries in building new navy ships worth NT$71.93 million and another project to install a telecom system for the Patriot III package, valued at NT$50 million.
The ministry has also moved NT$19.82 billion in "domestic payments" from the special budget to the regular budget, bringing the total cuts to the special budget to US$135.6 billion, so that it now stands at NT$475.2 billion.
Even with that figure, the Legislative Yuan would not bother to put the special budget bill through the Procedure Committee, Lee said. For the sake of "political harmony and the overall interests of the country, " Lee said his ministry has taken the initiative to move the budget for purchasing Patriot III batteries to the regular budget in a gesture of sincerity and goodwill.
The move has apparently improved the atmosphere in ruling-opposition relations, as can be seen from the opposition's willingness to talk with the Ministry of National Defense, Lee said.
The PFP is still not happy that the government will use a special budget to buy submarines and anti-sub aircraft. However, Lee noted that there has been progress from the previous impasse at the legislature. He said his personal future is not important as long as the opposition is willing to discuss the budget at the legislature.
He pledged that once the budget has passed the legislature, "there will absolutely be no scandals" involving the arms procurement and the ministry will "very carefully" use the arms in defense of the nation.
If Taiwan gives up its efforts to boost its defense capability, it will "end up in a dead end" as China has never renounced the option of a military takeover of Taiwan, Lee said. "Boosting our defense capability is aimed at keeping the cross-Taiwan Strait military imbalance from worsening and protecting our hard-won democratic achievements and economic prosperity, " he said.
(By S.C. Chang)
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