Taiwan's two main opposition parties Tuesday blocked a controversial 10-billion-dollar arms purchase from the United States even though the ruling party has scaled back the cost of the package from 19 billion.
The bill, proposed by the defense ministry, failed to win approval by the procedure committee of the opposition-controlled parliament, a necessary step before it can be heard in the full house.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of President Chen Shui-bian was furious.
"What the Kuomintang and People First Party love to do is to boycott ... regardless of Taiwan's need to defend itself," the DPP's parliamentary whip Lai Ching-teh told reporters.
The opposition insisted the arms bill is illegal after Taiwanese voted against the proposed purchase in the island's first referendum held simultaneously with presidential polls in March 2004.
"According to the referendum, the DPP government must not file the bill within three years," Kuomintang lawmaker Lai Shyh-bao told AFP.
The defense ministry regretted the result but pledged "to continue communication with parliamentarians."
The latest version of the arms bill calls for the purchase of eight conventional submarines and 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft from the United States over a 15-year period for around 340 billion Taiwan dollars (10 billion US).
The six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems included in the original bill would be financed by the government's yearly budgets.
Chen said last week that his government would strive to acquire sophisticated weaponry to defend itself against a Chinese invasion.
China has deployed up to 730 ballistic missiles opposite the island which it regards as part of its territory. It threatens to invade if Taiwan declares formal independence.
People First Party chairman James Soong has played down the threat.
"When I visited Beijing in May, China's President Hu Jintao told me that there would not be any military threat facing Taiwan as long as it does not declare independence," he said last week.
In December the procedure committee killed the original arms procurement bill, which was priced at more than 610 billion Taiwan dollars (19 billion US).
The committee again blocked an amended version of the bill, with spending reduced to 480 billion Taiwan dollars, earlier this year.
Some opposition lawmakers said Taiwan could not afford the arms deal while others said the equipment would be delivered too slowly to enable the island to catch up with China's military build-up.
Relations between China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, have worsened since independence-leaning Chen was elected president in 2000. He was re-elected last year.
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Taiwan Flexes Military Muscle, Pushes For Mega Arms Purchase From US
Tsoying Naval Base, Taiwan (AFP) Sep 06, 2005
Taiwan Tuesday demonstrated its naval power in a high-profile drill, as President Chen Shui-bian pressed for a 10-billion-dollar US arms deal to beef up the island's defense capability against rival China.
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