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Friday, October 07, 2005

New Zealand's source for World News on Stuff.co.nz: Taiwan's president offers to brief MPs on arms deal

New Zealand's source for World News on Stuff.co.nz: Taiwan's president offers to brief MPs on arms dealTaiwan's president offers to brief MPs on arms deal

FRIDAY , 07 OCTOBER 2005


TAIPEI: Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, under pressure from Washington to pass an arms package blocked by opposition lawmakers, offered yesterday to deliver a report in parliament to seek support for the $US11 billion ($NZ16 billion) special budget.

It is unprecedented for the president to present policy in parliament. Under Taiwan's complicated political system, the president is the head of the state who appoints a premier, who in turn delivers government policies to the parliament.

Even though the government slashed the arms budget from $US18 billion to $US15 billion and finally to $US11 billion, the opposition parties, with a slim majority in parliament, said the advanced weapons were still too expensive, unnecessary and against the people's wishes.

"I am willing to personally deliver a report on the arms deal that is related to national security and cross-Strait peace in parliament," Chen told a forum attended by parliament speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, who doubles as the chairman of the main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to attack the democratic island if it pushes for formal statehood. Many security analysts see the Taiwan Strait as one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

The arms deal had been the main focus of Chen's meetings with U.S. officials during his brief stopover in the United States last month.

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Chen had made a similar offer in the past but the opposition parties demanded that he should also answer questions as well, which Chen rejected.

Chen's office said they have yet to work out details of the president's proposal and it is not clear whether he will be willing to answer questions this time.

The special budget is earmarked for eight diesel-electric submarines and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.

The government dropped six anti-missile Patriot Advanced Capability-3 batteries from the deal, although it still plans to buy the systems using the defence ministry's regular budget.

The United States first offered the arms deal in 2001 in what would be the biggest arms deal in a decade.

The delay has fuelled worries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its own defence. The United States recognises Beijing's "one China" policy but is also obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taipei defend itself.

U.S. Defence Security Cooperation Agency director Edward Ross has said the arms package has become a "political football" in Taiwan and warned that Washington may not come to Taiwan's aid if the island cannot defend itself.

In the past Chen has emphasised the threat from China, pointing to double-digit growth of its military budget and the positioning of up to 730 missiles aimed at Taiwan, as highlighted recently in the Pentagon's annual report on China's military.

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