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13 Apr 04. Reuters reported that Taiwan’s defence ministry plans to finish by June its proposal for a US$15 billion special budget to buy advanced weapons from the United States and counter China’s threats to invade, the ministry said on Tuesday.

The statement came hours before U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney arrives in China for a visit likely to focus on Chinese calls to halt U.S. arms sales to the island, which Beijing views as a renegade province that must be reunited, by force if necessary.

“Based on the current progress, the plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of June this year but it will not be executed until after getting approval from the cabinet and the parliament,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The T$500 billion (US$15 billion) budget was first proposed by the ministry last year to help pay for a massive arms deal offered by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2001 that would be the biggest weapons sale to Taiwan in a decade.

The deal had been delayed by budget constraints and some opposition lawmakers have said they plan to block the special budget in parliament so the money can be spent domestically. The special budget will help buy eight diesel-engine submarines, four Kidd Class destroyers — second-hand but powerful air-defence vessels — 12 P-3C Orion submarine-hunting aircraft, and Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems.

The China Times quoted unidentified sources as saying Taiwan will buy anti-missile missiles, including six batteries of PAC-3, in June in a deal worth T$100 billion. The ministry declined to comment on the report. China opposes any arms sales to Taiwan as it views them as encouragement for the ruling pro-independence party to push the self-governing island to a permanent split from the mainland.

The Pentagon said last month it planned to approve the sale to Taiwan of long-range early warning radar equipment worth as much as $1.78 billion, a deal that triggered an angry response from China. The report came weeks after pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian narrowly won re-election on March 20. Chen says China has pointed about 500 missiles at the island and is adding one missile every six days.

The United States acknowledges China’s claim to Taiwan, but makes no statement about the island’s status. It remains Taiwan’s main arms supplier and major trade partner, and has repeatedly warned Taipei that it was not spending enough on its own defence.

Taiwan also has tentative plans to make 120 short-range and 30 mid-range surface-to-surface missiles capable of striking deep into China, said Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, a leading defence monthly magazine in its April 1 issue. (US$1=T$32.8)

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