Monday, September 1, 2008

Taiwan to cut military spending amid warming China ties

Taiwan to cut military spending amid warming China ties

TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan plans to scale back its military spending in 2009 amid warming ties with rival China, it was reported Saturday.

Military spending will be 315.2 billion Taiwan dollars (10 billion US), a decline of 10.4 billion Taiwan dollars on this year, the United Daily News said, citing a draft budget pending parliament's approval.

It will account for 17.2 percent of next year's government budget, the report said, but the move has drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers.

"I'm worried that the decline in military expenditures may send a wrong signal to the United States and Japan that Taiwan is short of determination to defend itself against China," said Tsai Huang-lang of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should the island declare formal independence. Beijing still regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting to be reunified, by force if necessary, although the island has governed itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.

However, tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou was elected in March on a platform to boost the economy and improve ties with China.

Separately, the foreign ministry's budget to cement ties with existing diplomatic allies or to seek new ones will be reduced by 6.0 percent from this year to 3.8 billion Taiwan dollars.

The foreign ministry said the budget cut was in line with Ma's call for an end to the decades-old competition for diplomatic recognition between Taipei and Beijing.

Both sides have often used generous financial packages to influence governments, particularly in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, to ensure loyalty or persuade them to switch recognition.

Only 23 nations formally recognise Taiwan over China.

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