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Taiwan defends arms deal, warns of China missile threat

AFP | March 21, 2005

Taiwan badly needs more anti-missile weaponry from the United States to counter the threat from China which has hundreds of missiles targeting the island, the defense ministry said Monday.

In a report to parliament's defense committee, the ministry released for the first time the scenario of a computerised wargame featuring an intensive missile attack against the island by China in 2014.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to use force to retake the island should it formally declare independence.

The People's Liberation Army could launch 12 cruise missiles in the first wave of a surprise assault aimed at destroying Taiwan's Presidential Office but the island's defense systems at present could only shoot down about eight of them, it said.

Taiwan would need around 21 Patriot missiles to intercept and destroy the first wave of cruise missiles, the ministry said.

The island's radar stations, airports and harbors could be targeted in subsequent attacks, it said.

As such, Taiwan needs more anti-missile weaponry, or it could be paralyzed after China's first missile strikes.

"If we cannot obtain the planned Patriot missiles, I cannot defend it (Taiwan)," said General Ku Feng-tai, head of Taiwan's missile command.

"We badly need the missiles," he said, referring to a controversial 15.5 billion US dollar arms package.

Taiwan has already put into service three US-made PAC-2 anti-missile systems to protect the greater Taipei area.

China has some 700 ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and could target the island with 1,200 ballistic and cruise missiles by 2014, the ministry said.

Taiwan's cabinet on Wednesday approved the arms deal which calls for the purchase of six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and a fleet of submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft from the United States over 15 years from this year.

The arms bill will soon be submitted to the opposition-dominated parliament for approval but the opposition has said the package is unacceptable.

Defense Minister Lee Jye last week urged legislators to approve the deal, saying China would be strong enough to invade the island by 2020 without such a deterrent.

He called attention to China's decision to raise military spending this year by 12.6 percent to 244.65 billion yuan (29.5 billion dollars).

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who Monday ended a week-long Asian tour that included China, has also described Chinese military spending as a concern when the cross-strait issue is unresolved.

The United States remains Taiwan's leading arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979. Under the Taiwan Relations Act it is obliged to provide arms "of a defensive nature".

Some critics say Taiwan cannot afford the massive arms package while others say the weaponry will not be delivered in time to fend off an attack from China in coming years. Others fear the purchase could fuel an arms race with Beijing.

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