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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Taiwan To Boost 2007 Military Spending, Warns Of China Hostility

Thu, 24 Aug 2006, 00:52

Taipei: Taiwan's cabinet Wednesday decided to increase military spending by nearly 30 percent next year as President Chen Shui-bian warned of rival China's continuing hostility towards the island. The cabinet approved a draft bill proposed by the defense ministry calling for 323.5 billion Taiwan dollars (9.86 billion US) in spending next year, a rise of 71 billion dollars, or 28.1 percent, from the current year.

The planned military spending, pending the legislature's final approval, would account for 18.7 percent of the government budget for 2007, up from 15.3 percent the preceding year.

Much of the extra spending would be used to buy advanced US-made weaponry as part of the island's efforts to boost its defense capability against China, the defense ministry said.

Chen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, defended the planned increase during a visit to Kinmen, a fortified island group off China's southeastern city of Xiamen.

"Peace should not be founded on the enemy's goodwill...only by building a strong defense force could any invasion attempt be deterred," Chen said as Taiwan marked the anniversary of a Chinese communist bombardment of Kinmen in 1958.

"Over the past nearly 50 years, although no large-scale military conflicts broke out in the Taiwan Strait, it by no means an easing of the military threat from China," Chen said.

"So far, the People's Liberation Army have deployed more than 800 ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan, four times more than when Ah-Bian (Chen's nickname) was elected president in 2000," he said, adding that the number of missiles is rising at the rate of 120 per year.

China announced in March its military budget for this year would rise 14.7 percent to 35 billion dollars, the latest in a series of double-digit annual increases dating back to the early 1990s.

A Pentagon report last year estimated that China's defense spending was two to three times the publicly announced figure and that the cross-strait military balance was tipping in Beijing's favor.

China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should it declare formal independence. It has regarded the self-governing island as part of its territory since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have escalated since the independence-leaning Chen was elected president in 2000. He was narrowly re-elected in 2004.

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