Your Ad Here

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taiwan wants more U.S. weapons despite latest sales

Far from being satisfied with a $6.4 billion arms package proposed by Washington last week, Taiwan said on Wednesday it wants more weapons, and more advanced ones at that, a move sure to further infuriate China.

Taiwan, which has seen its military superiority over China gradually slip over the past few years on the back of a massive rise in Chinese defence spending, urgently wants to get its hands on advanced F-16 fighter jets and submarines.

U.S. officials have given no clear signals about when that equipment may arrive. Washington may hold off given China's strident reaction to Friday's package, which included a more modest offering of Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters.

Sino-U.S. relations are already tense due to a series of other spats over the value of China's currency, trade protectionism and Internet freedoms.

"We hope for the F-16s. We're still asking about submarines. Although relations have improved with mainland China, Taiwan still needs its own defensive power," said Tony Wang, spokesman for Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. "We need a sense of security."

Taiwan's current submarine fleet of four includes two boats built during World War Two which go to sea complete with some of their original brass fittings. China, by contrast, has more than 60 submarines and a rapidly modernising surface fleet.

Taiwan already operates earlier-model F-16s. Defence officials want the more up-to-date variant to deal with China's growing numbers of Russian-designed Su-30 and Su-27 fighters.

The United States, wary of upsetting Beijing too much, has refused to sell Taiwan top-of-the-line weapons before, including air-to-air missiles and advanced warships. 

"In terms of military modernisation, we're trying to catch up," said George Tsai, political scientist at Taipei's Chinese Cultural University. "But the U.S. has its own calculations."


While China lambasted Washington for last week's announcement, saying it would put sanctions on U.S. companies selling the weapons, it also says the sales could affect the task of peaceful reunification between China and Taiwan.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's KMT fled to the island. China has threatened to attack if Taiwan tries to formalise its de facto independence.

But relations have improved dramatically since 2008, when the KMT's Ma won Taiwan's presidential election. He has since signed a series of trade and tourism deals with China.

However, military and political suspicion of China remains deep in proudly democratic Taiwan.
Taiwan officials say China has aimed 1,400 missiles at the island, a claim that fuels sentiment for beefing up defence.

"If you say mainland China is aiming missiles at us, then we need more weapons," said Yan Chih-hung, 33, a Taiwan IT worker.
"It's a matter of karma."
The United States is one of the world's only countries willing to sell arms to Taiwan due to a 1979 Congressional act that seeks to help the island defend itself.

China says there is no need to sell Taiwan weapons.

"Cross-Strait relations are good at present, and there's no atmosphere of war," Liu Guoshen, a Taiwan expert at China's Xiamen University, told nationalist Chinese newspaper the Global Times. "It's farcical to want to buy lots of U.S. weapons."

Taiwan's government for its part has played down China's reaction to the arms sales.

"Taiwan will always seek weapons, and the only question will be whether the United States approves them," said Cabinet spokesman Su Jun-pin. (source reuters)