Taiwan will continue buying arms from US, says President Ma

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou said on Friday the island will continue to acquire arms from the United States, dismissing reports that the US and China could discuss ending such sales.

Mr Ma spoke after local and Chinese media on Thursday quoted a Chinese defence official who said Washington had reacted positively when China's defence minister Chang Wanquan proposed setting up a joint working group to discuss arms sales to Taipei.

Mr Chang made the proposal during a visit to the US that started last week, according to Mr Guan Youfei, who accompanied him on the trip.

Mr Guan reportedly also said that, during a meeting with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, Mr Chang offered to adjust Chinese military deployment in exchange for the US ending its weapons sales to Taiwan.

Mr Guan's remarks raised concerns in Taiwan, where the US is the leading arms supplier to the island.

"To acquire necessary weapons that we can't manufacture ourselves, we will keep buying arms from the United States," Mr Ma said during a visit to the offshore island of Kinmen to mark the 55th anniversary of a bombardment by the Chinese army that killed 618 servicemen and civilians.

"The US made 'Six Assurances' to our country back in 1982, including not to set a date to end arms sales to Taiwan nor to hold prior consultations with China on arms sales," he said, referring to the promise made by the former Ronald Reagan administration.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but at the same time Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires Washington to provide the island with means to defend itself.

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

President Barack Obama's administration has approved more than US$12 billion (S$15 billion) in sales and equipment upgrades, but has held off on Taiwan's requests to buy new F-16 fighter jets, a step against which China has repeatedly warned.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have eased markedly since Mr Ma came to power on a Beijing-friendly platform in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

But Mr Ma has stressed that Taiwan needs to maintain sufficient self-defence, as China still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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