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Hard up for arms sales, Taiwan turns to its own defenses

The development in Taiwan’s weapons industry advances its long-term goal of greater military self-sufficiency as the US waffles under pressure from China on whether to continue selling advanced weapons to the island as it has done for decades.

By Correspondent / May 16, 2011

A handout photograph shows a Taiwan Air Force IDF fighter jet taking off on a highway used as an emergency landing strip during the Han Kuang military exercise in Madou, Tainan, southern Taiwan, April 12.

Military News Agency/Reuters

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Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan’s deployment of a third generation of Brave Wind antiship missiles signals a growing reliance on homemade weapons, which defense officials consider crucial as they worry the United States is backing away from selling advanced weapons to it.

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The supersonic missiles now on 12 Taiwanese frigate warships and eight missile boats could hit enemy ships at higher speeds if China – or anyone else – attacked, said Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang. The deployment announcement – normally hush-hush – came late last week ahead of Beijing’s reported plans to finish work on its first aircraft carrier.

“It’s a continuous process in accordance with our defensive policy, which is defending the islands from attacks from afar,” Mr. Yang said.

The development in Taiwan’s indigenous hardware advances its long-term goal of greater military self-sufficiency as the US appears to waffle under pressure from China – which Taiwan considers a continuing threat – on whether to sell advanced weapons to the island as it has done for decades past.

“If you put too much emphasis on imports and something goes sour between importer and exporter, you end up with an empty hand,” says Liu Yi-jiun, public affairs professor at Fo Guang University in Taiwan.

Local weapons production also shows that China and Taiwan, which have occasionally flirted with war in the past 60 years, distrust each other despite talks since 2008 that have eased tensions through trade and transit deals. But China has never officially dropped threats to use force, if needed, to bring the self-ruled island into the fold.

Taiwan, which lags in the balance of power against China’s rapidly modernizing military stationed just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away at the nearest point, once looked to the US, its strong informal ally, for sales of defensive arms. President Ma Ying-jeou still pushes Washington to approve a request for as many as 66 F-16 fighter jets.

But Washington, also with trade on its mind, wants peace with economic powerhouse China and fears another angry backlash if it sells more weapons to the island that Beijing has claimed as its own since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. Beijing fumed after Washington approved a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan last year.

As no other foreign supplier will step in, officials and experts say Taiwan has refocused on a 30-year-old effort to build its own systems, though officials give few details on budgets, timelines, and capabilities.

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