4 Oct 2008

US arms deal with Taiwan could irk China

6:08 pm on 4 October 2008

The US government has announced plans to sell about $6.5 billion in arms to Taiwan, in a move that could anger China.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency told lawmakers that the sale -- which also includes 32 Harpoon submarine-launched missiles -- would support Taiwan's continuing efforts to modernise its military.

"The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region," said the agency, which oversees major arms sales.

US politicians have 30 days to block the six separate arms deals, although such action is rare since any major arms agreements are carefully vetted before they are made public.

The Pentagon said the arms sales were consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, which obliges Washington to help Taipei defend itself.

The deals were announced after what analysts had described as a freeze designed to ease tension between Beijing and Taipei, and were quickly lauded in Taiwan.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed in the past to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

Many of the weapons in the sale were part of a package announced by President George Bush shortly after he took office in 2001.

Recently, congressional aides cited concern that the arms sales could prompt Chinese retaliation that would hurt US efforts to ease the financial credit crisis.