Sunday, October 5, 2008

U.S. approves $6.5 billion arm sales to Taiwan

Taiwan welcomes $6.5 billion US arms package

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou welcomed Saturday a U.S. decision to sell the island up to $6.5 billion in advanced weaponry, ending a months-long freeze on Washington's arms sales to Taipei.

The U.S. government announced the package, which includes Apache helicopters and Patriot III missiles, in a notification to Congress on Friday. The State Department said the deal would proceed if no lawmaker voices any objection within 30 days.

The United States is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons against a possible invasion by China. It remains Taiwan's most important ally and largest arms supplier, even after Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. China continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack if the island moves to make the break permanent.

Friday's move came three months after Admiral Timothy Keating, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, announced a freeze on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Analysts speculated the decision reflected U.S. reluctance to anger China before President Bush attended the Olympics in Beijing in August.

On Saturday, Taiwan's Presidential Office spokesman Wang Yu-chi thanked the U.S. and said the government wants to maintain a strong defense against any threat from China while seeking improvement in cross-strait relations.

"President Ma Ying-jeou would like to express gratitude to the U.S. for the arms package," said Wang. "A strong defense and peace in the Taiwan Strait are necessary for Taiwan's prosperity."

U.S. approval of the arms sale was unlikely to foil warming ties between Taiwan and China, said Wang Kao-cheng, an international affairs specialist at Taipei-based Tamkang University

"The weapons in the package this time are of a defensive nature, and do not pose a security threat to China," Wang said. "They will not cause tension in cross-strait relations."

Since taking office in May, Ma has turned the corner on his predecessor's hard-line China policy and pushed for better mainland ties.

He has opened the island up for an increased number of mainland tourists, and facilitated regular direct flights across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. He has also loosened restrictions on Taiwanese investment in China, and welcomed Chinese investors to the island.

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