March 15, 2006

Taiwan opposition can’t agree on US arms deal

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's opposition lawmakers are
divided over whether, or what, to buy from a package of
advanced weaponry offered by Washington, dashing hopes for a
resolution to end the deadlocked deal any time soon.

The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), or the Nationalist
Party, is widely expected to come up with its own answer to the
deal before its chairman Ma Ying-jeou leaves for the United
States, Taiwan's main ally and arms supplier, on Sunday.

The delay has fueled worries in Washington that Taipei is
not serious about its own defense. But the KMT said it did not
feel any pressure.

"My trip to the United States is not to explain our
position on the weapon purchase," Ma told reporters on
Wednesday. "It does not serve such a narrow purpose."

The KMT, which favors closer ties with China, said many
lawmakers wanted to shelve the proposal for now after President
Chen Shui-bian scrapped a dormant but symbolic body and
15-year-old guidelines on unification with the mainland in

The move triggered condemnation from China, which considers
Taiwan part of its territory.

"It is true that lawmakers are still divided. We are trying
to find a consensus," KMT spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said. "We
also need time to consult with other opposition parties."

Most KMT lawmakers agreed to give a go-ahead to buy 12 P-3
"Orion" anti-submarine aircraft and put aside the purchase of
six patriot missile batteries. But they were divided over the
offer for eight diesel-electric submarines, party officials

U.S. President George W. Bush made the offer in 2001 in
what would be the biggest arms sales to Taiwan in more than a

But an opposition alliance led by the KMT, which favors
closer ties with China and controls a slim majority in
parliament, has repeatedly blocked the deal, saying it is
expensive, provocative and unnecessary.

Frustrated by the opposition's move, Taiwan's defense
ministry was forced to drop a special budget for the purchase.

The ministry now plans to boost its regular budget to
account for 2.85 percent of the gross domestic product in 2007
and 3 percent in 2008, from 2.4 percent this year to cover the

China has vowed to bring the self-governed democracy of 23
million people back to the fold -- by force if necessary.

The United States recognizes the "one-China" policy, but in
a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also
obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.