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Taiwan eyeing U.S. tanks, torpedoes

TAIPEI, Taiwan, July 20 (UPI) -- Taiwan is planning to purchase torpedoes and heavy tanks from the United States in an attempt to further fortify its defense capabilities against China.

The Liberty Times reported that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou ordered the country's defense ministry to draft a draw up a shopping list of weapons that include MK-54 torpedoes, dozens of M1A2 tanks and amphibious landing vehicles.

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If acquired, the Taipei daily reported, the torpedoes will be used to replace Taiwan's aging MK-46s.

The decision comes despite an easing of tense relations between China and Taiwan in recent years.

The move also follows a decision by the Taiwan government to press ahead with a controversial $6.4 billion purchase of U.S. missiles, helicopters and ships despite the public stated wrath of China. The package includes an estimated 60 Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot air-defense missiles and supplies for Taiwan's aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Still, Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be brought back into the fold. It has used a number of means, diplomatic and military, to deter other nations from officially recognizing Taiwan as an independent state.

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Even so, relations between both sides have increasingly thawed, allowing Taiwan to pursue trade deals with other countries that have long been reluctant to antagonize Beijing.

This week, however, Taiwan staged a computerized war game to test its readiness to repel Chinese forces, a Defense Ministry statement said.

The simulated war game coincides with a defense ministry report predicting that China will deploy hundreds of new missiles aimed at Taiwan by the end of 2010. Military experts have also said that China has increased its missiles aimed at Taiwan from 300 in 2001 to 1,400 in 2008.

No details have been provided on the total number of missiles currently deployed.

Washington has tried to bolster Taiwan's defenses while allaying China's concerns of relations being undermined. Beijing though has urged the U.S. administration to reconsider the move, threatening the suspension of military contacts with the United States as well as slapping sanctions on the companies manufacturing the weapons bound for Taiwan.

Washington is required under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. The United States remains the island's top arms supplier.

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama paid a 4-day visit to China where he signed a joint statement under which China and the United States agreed to respect each other's "core interests."

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