Douglas Paal, director of American Institute in Taiwan, has suggested that Taiwan could propose a different mix of weapons to be included in the pending arms procurement package if it better met the country's defensive needs, opposition Kuomintang Legislator John Chiang disclosed yesterday.
At a legislative hearing yesterday with Foreign Affairs Minister Mark Chen (陳唐山), Chiang urged the government to be more pragmatic in framing the arms deal, and said the U.S. envoy was open to adjusting the package, such as replacing the submarines with minelayers.
The legislator remained skeptical whether the submarines included in the procurement could be classified as "arms of a defensive character" that the U.S. is allowed to sell Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, underlining his party's discomfort with the proposal.
The Legislature's Procedure Committee, controlled by the KMT and its ally People First Party, last Tuesday blocked a special budget for the purchase of eight diesel-electric submarines from the U.S. from being reviewed for the 43rd time since June 2004.
The government originally intended to fund the entire package with an NT$610 billion special budget, but the total value of the deal has since been pared down to approximately NT$460 billion, with only NT$299 billion coming from a supplementary budget for the submarines.
The Ministry of National Defense has agreed to shift the remaining cost of six Patriot III anti-missile batteries and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft into the agency's annual budgets.
Chiang said Paal told him privately, however, that Taiwan could propose a different list of items to be purchased, as the individual weapon systems were negotiable.
The legislator believed the military should reconsider the package, and evaluate Taiwan's short-term and long-term defense needs with an eye toward dominance on the seas and in the air.
Foreign Minister Chen backed the concept of flexibility and said that U.S. would respect Taiwan's decisions on what systems were part of the bill and what it needed to best defend itself.
He suggested, however, that the most efficient way to draft a new list would be to allow the currently pending bill to proceed for review to the Legislature's National Defense Committee.
Chen also stressed that the arms package would be a decisive factor in future Taiwan-U.S. relations at the 2005 year-end MOFA news conference last week.
In response to a question from Chiang, Chen said he wasn't sure if the U.S. would support provocative behavior by Taiwan (in terms of redefining its national status) that was backed by advanced American weapons, but assured the legislator he would clarify the country's policies with Washington.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said that although the U.S. has stated it would respect Taiwan's handling of the arms bill, Taiwan should also make an appropriate commitment to its own security.
"The U.S. would not object if we choose to buy the weapons from other countries or use (the budget) on repairing our existing defensive facilities. The issue the U.S. cares about is Taiwan's determination to defend itself, and it seems like we haven't been demonstrating that," Hsiao said.