Taiwan defense minister wants the United States to speed up delivery of arms package

Friday, July 2nd 2004, 6:11 am
By: News On 6

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Taiwan's defense minister said Friday he hopes the United States will speed up the delivery of a proposed multibillion dollar weapons package to boost the island's defenses against rival China.

Taiwan's Cabinet last month proposed spending $18 billion to buy anti-missile systems, planes and submarines from the United States, with the payment and delivery spread out over 15 years

Minister Lee Jye told media executives Friday that China's growing military strength spurred him to ask Washington to speed up the delivery, though he didn't specify a timetable.

A civil war split Taiwan and China in 1949 and Beijing has threatened to use force to reunify the island. China has deployed about 500 ballistic missiles against Taiwan.

The island has said the U.S. anti-missile systems can help dissuade China from using the missiles, while the submarines and planes could help counter an invasion across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

However, Taiwan's government faces a tough battle to have the special budget for the arms deal approved by the legislature. Lawmakers from most parties have balked at the price tag, especially the $12.3 billion for eight diesel-electric submarines.

Some lawmakers have suggested Washington was trying to exploit its position as the only nation that risks China's ire by selling advanced weapons to the island.

However, the defense minister said Friday the price was still up for discussion with the United States, and he strongly rebuffed suggestions that potential payments to middlemen were the cause for the cost of the package.

``This is a government-to-government deal, I guarantee there will be no problem with so-called commissions,'' Lee said.

There is no indication when the legislature will vote on the arms package, though lawmakers are discussing the possibility of holding a special session to discuss the issue.