By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Taiwan’s legislature approved the first reading Dec. 29 of a controversial arms budget for equipment first promised by the Bush administration in 2001.
Earlier in the week, the procedural committee had approved the budget after opposition members reportedly had forgotten to vote against it.
The budget had been blocked more than 60 times in the procedural committee by pro-China legislators since it was introduced in 2004.
The budget still has to be approved by a budgetary committee, then must go through a second and third reading before being sent to the president’s office.
Despite an enthusiastic response by the Ministry of National Defense on Dec. 29, local analysts are warning the budget has a long way to go before being approved.
Since the budget was first introduced, it has been drastically reduced in size and costs. The original budget of $16 billion was to pay for eight diesel electric submarines, 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, and six batteries of Patriot PAC-3 missiles. However, the budget has now been reduced to $192 million, which only pays for a feasibility study for submarine designs, 12 P-3C Orion aircraft and an upgrade for the Patriot PAC-2 Plus batteries that were installed around Taipei in the late 1990s.
The U.S. government has made numerous efforts to encourage Taipei to push forward on the stalled budget. Many in Washington have complained that Taiwan does not take its defense needs seriously, while others view the blocked budget as simply an attempt by pro-China legislators to placate Beijing and humiliate pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian.