Taiwan's Ma seeks US help in closing arms gap

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2011 8:18 AM
Taiwan's Ma seeks US help in closing arms gap

The president of Taiwan said Wednesday it needs help from the United States in closing a widening arms gap with China.

Ma Ying-jeou's remarks to an American business group follow China's announcement last week that it plans to boost defense spending by 12.7 percent this year. Its military buildup in recent years has alarmed its neighbors as well as the United States.

While the Obama administration last year signed off on a $6.4 billion arms sales package for Taiwan, it has not acted on a number of weapons requests from the island, including one for 66 relatively advanced F-16 jet fighters.

"In view of the vastly expanding imbalance between the military power of Taiwan and the mainland we certainly do not want to be the weak link in the security network in this part of the world," Ma told the business group.

"We want to be a cornerstone of regional peace and stability, so we want to maintain close security cooperation with the U.S., including procurement of defensive arms," he said.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to regard the island as part of its territory and seeks to reunify with it _ by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.

While Ma has used growing economic ties with the mainland to reduce tensions to their lowest level in 60 years, he still regards China as a military threat. Despite the warming ties, the mainland is expanding its air force and has more than 1,300 missiles targeted at the island.

American arms sales to Taiwan are strongly opposed by China, which sees them as interference in its domestic affairs and says they undermine ties between Beijing and Washington.

U.S. sales of defensive arms are mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act, passed by Congress in 1979 to safeguard Taiwanese interests after the Carter administration shifted U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.