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US diplomat urges Taiwan to buy more weapons

Written by: Staff
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TAIPEI, Oct 26 (Reuters) The top US diplomat in Taiwan today urged the island to approve a budget to buy new weapons this year, including a multi-billion US arms deal, to help counter China's growing military build-up.

''As a partner in Taiwan security, the US has a special interest and should speak its mind,'' said Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, a de facto embassy on the island, which has no official ties with the United States.

''The five years that have gone wasting have not seen the PRC sit idly,'' he said.

US President George W Bush in April 2001 approved Taiwan's request for up to eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft, four decommissioned Kidd-class destroyers and Patriot anti-missile systems.

Since then, most of these deals have been held up in Taiwan's opposition-controlled legislature.

Taiwan needs to expand its military in response to China's addition of modern weaponry over the past decade, so it could ''exact a price'' if attacked and give itself better bargaining power as well, Young said.

PARTISAN POLITICS China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if the self-governing island of 23 million people pushes for formal statehood.

A 1979 US congressional act requires the United States to help defend Taiwan despite constant and high-level pressure from China to make it back off.

Arms sales to Taiwan are particularly thorny. They are opposed by Beijing, mired in partisan wrangling in Taipei and viewed by Washington as a test of Taiwan's willingness to invest in its own defence and cut the danger of a cross-Strait clash into which US forces could be drawn.

Taiwan's legislature has not passed a defence appropriations bill in the past five years. The legislature is now debating the latest spending bill, with no signs the partisan politics will ease.

''This would be a gift to the security of the people of Taiwan,'' Young said. ''The United States is watching closely and will judge those who take responsibility and whose who use (the bill) to play power games.'' Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council says China is adding 100 missiles a year, with a total now of 800, for potential use against Taiwan. Its arsenal also includes survey ships and 50 submarines, council Chairman Joseph Wu said last week.

Young said he had met Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, former President Lee Teng-hui, two major opposition leaders and three top administration officials to push for a military budget bill this autumn.

REUTERS DKB BD1730

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