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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

U.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agenda

U.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agendaU.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agenda
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's ruling party managed to get a $11 billion U.S. arms package, which it sees as key to keeping the balance of power with China, on to parliament's agenda on Tuesday after being stalled by the opposition 41 times.

The United States, which recognises China and not Taiwan, offered the package of advanced weapons in 2001. Taiwan has since cut its budget for the arms from $18 billion to $11 billion

Many security analysts see the Taiwan Strait, which separates China and Taiwan, as one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

Lawmakers from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their allies voted 12 to 5 in a sub-committee responsible for setting parliament agenda while many opposition lawmakers were in a separate meeting.

But the victory could be short-lived as the opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which once ruled all China, and People First Party control a slim parliamentary majority and vowed to overturn the decision on Friday.

The two parties favour closer ties with China and say the purchase is expensive, provocative and unnecessary.

They have stopped the issue getting on parliament's agenda 41 times. The delay has fuelled worries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its own defence.

China has viewed Taiwan as part of Chinese territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back to the fold -- by force if necessary.

The United States recognises the mainland as China's sole legitimate government -- the "one-China" policy -- but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.

"We will send the issue back to the procedural committee on Friday," KMT legislative caucus whip Tseng Yung-chuan told reporters.

"They have started a confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties ... at a time when our priority should be to review the government budget," Tseng said.

The special budget is to pay for eight diesel-electric submarines and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.

The government dropped six anti-missile Patriot Advanced Capability-3 batteries from the deal, although it still plans to buy the systems using the defence ministry's regular budget.

President Chen Shui-bian has said he hoped rival parties could set aside domestic political rhetoric after Dec. 3 local government elections, in which the opposition won a crushing victory against the ruling party.

KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou has recently hinted at room for discussion, saying the party supports legitimate self-defence, but is against a "sucker's" arms purchase.

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