Taiwan says it wants US weapons despite warmer ties with China

A Taiwan navy Kidd-class destoryer launching a SM-2 surface to air missile during a lifefire drill at sea near the east coast of Taiwan on September 26, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A Taiwan navy Kidd-class destoryer launching a SM-2 surface to air missile during a lifefire drill at sea near the east coast of Taiwan on September 26, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - A senior Taiwanese official has renewed a call for the United States to sell the island submarines and advanced fighters to bolster defences against China, the local media reported on Tuesday.

The call came despite a marked improvement in relations since President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power in 2008. Mr Ma was re-elected in January 2012.

Despite warming ties, Beijing still refuses to rule out the use of force to reunify with Taiwan and has been strengthening its own forces.

"The Chinese mainland's military might keeps growing at a fast pace in the past few years, posing a grave threat to Taiwan," Deputy Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa told reporters on the sidelines of the US-Taiwan Defence Industry Conference in Annapolis, Maryland from Sept 29 to Oct 1.

The conference, the 12th since 2002, discussed Taiwan's Quadrennial Defence Review and examined the island's defence needs against an increasingly assertive Chinese military, Taiwan's state Central News Agency reported.

Regarding hoped-for weapons acquisitions from the United States, the island's leading arms supplier, Mr Yen said Taiwan now gives priority to submarines.

In April 2001 then President George W. Bush approved the sale of eight conventional submarines as part of Washington's most comprehensive arms package to the island since 1992.

Since then, however, there has been little progress on the order because the United States has not built conventional submarines for more than 40 years.

Germany and Spain have reportedly declined to offer their own designs for fear of offending China.

The Taiwanese Navy currently operates a fleet of four submarines, but only two of them could be deployed in the event of war. The other two were built by the United States in the 1940s.

Taiwan is also looking for fighter aircraft more advanced than the current F-16s, Mr Yen said.