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Friday, November 03, 2006

Taiwan leader urges support for US arms package, launches warships

Agence France-Presse
Nov 3, 2006 - 4:37:14 AM

Taipei: Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on Thursday urged parliament to approve a controversial defense budget to buy more weaponry from the United States, as he commissioned two Kidd-class destroyers. "Under China's suppression, it is extremely difficult for our military to acquire modernized weapons... Any military procurement is a result of long-term planning," Chen said at the launch ceremony for the US-made ships.

The ships were the last of four Kidd-class destroyers commissioned to help boost the island's defenses against rival China.

The refurbished warships are part of a massive arms package for Taiwan approved by US President George W. Bush in April 2002.

Taiwan's opposition has repeatedly blocked the 10-billion-US dollar arms deal despite a US warning that the island must develop its military capability to combat the growing threat from China, which has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence.

"The US government has voiced its concern over the parliament's delay in passing the arms package... we should not ignore our ally's sincere and friendly advice nor counter it with emotional rhetoric," Chen said.

Stephen Young, the de facto US ambassador to Taipei, last week warned parliament to approve the arms deal.

"The United States is watching closely and will judge those who take a responsible position as well as those who play politics on this critical issue," Young said.

In what opposition legislators described as an ultimatum, he added that Taipei needed to pass the defense budget in this fall's legislative session.

Chen also urged the opposition, which dominates parliament, to take responsibility for passing the bill.

"If we miss this good opportunity all efforts in the past would be gone... Only preparing for war can stop war and a solid national defence is the strongest guarantee for peace." The arms package has repeatedly been blocked even after it was scaled down from the original 16 billion dollars.

The latest version of the arms bill calls for the purchase of eight conventional submarines and 12 P-3C aircraft. The budget for Patriot anti-missile systems included in the original deal will be set aside on a year-on-year basis.

Some opposition lawmakers say Taiwan cannot afford the arms, while others said they would be delivered too slowly to enable the island to keep pace with China's military build-up.

China opposes any arms sales to the island which it considers part of its territory. The two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
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