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May 27, 2017

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Ma, Soong agree to oppose special weapons budget

The leaders of the two main opposition parties agreed yesterday to jointly oppose a NT$340 billion special arms budget proposed by the government to increase the island's self-defense capabilities in the face of China's growing military threat.

Even though the government slashed the budget from NT$610 billion to NT$480 billion and finally NT$340 billion, the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) said the sophisticated U.S. weapons were still too expensive, unnecessary and against the people's wishes.

"In May, when I went to China, (Chinese President) Hu Jintao clearly said if Taiwan doesn't pursue independence, there won't be any military threat in the Taiwan Strait," said PFP chairman James Soong.

"We cannot accept this foolish and overpriced arms deal," he told reporters before a meeting with KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou.

The KMT and the PFP together hold a slim majority in the legislature and have used that advantage to block the arms deal.

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 (PAC-3) from the deal, though it still plans to buy the systems using the defense ministry's regular budget.

The weapons were offered to Taiwan by the U.S. spurring some Washington officials to express concerns that Taiwan was not serious about its own defense.

Washington acknowledges China's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, but the United States is obliged to help the island defend itself under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Soong said Taiwan's 23 million people were against the arms purchase, pointing to a referendum that was held alongside the presidential election on March 20 last year.

The defeated referendum had asked whether Taiwan should boost its defenses against China, but did not specifically mention the special arms budget.

Cabinet spokesman Cho Jung-tai refuted Soong's argument.

He pointed out the 2004 referendum asked voters if they thought Taiwan needed to buy additional anti-missile weaponry in the light of China's military threat.

But, Cho said, Taipei first settled on buying each item in the billion-dollar weapons package in 1994, 1997 and 1998 respectively. So voters would not view the U.S arms as "additional weaponry" when responding to the referendum.

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