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Taiwan president pushes for naval build-up

Wednesday December 19, 2007

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian on Tuesday pressed for a build-up of the island's seaborne defences, warning of a possible Chinese blockade during a trip to a naval base.

Taiwan is moving slowly towards acquiring eight new submarines from the United States after gaining parliamentary approval for a two billion dollar (61.54 million US) "assessment fee" last week.

"Since Taiwan is surrounded by ocean, its external trade relies largely on shipping. Should China launch a naval blockade, Taiwan's lifeline would suffer severe impact," Chen said at Tsoying, southern Taiwan's main naval base.

The submarine deal, offered by US President George W. Bush in April 2001, is part of an arms procurement bill scaled down from an original 512 billion dollars.

It also calls for the purchase of six PAC-3 Patriot systems and 12 P-3C anti-submarine aircraft.

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Chen also said he has ordered "the defence ministry and the navy to ... facilitate the processing of the arms deal."

The defence ministry says Taiwan needs the eight submarines because China could use its huge fleet to blockade the island in the event of war.

Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade the island should it declare formal independence. Taiwan and China are ruled separately since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Taiwan navy's submarine fleet currently consists of two 50-year-old Guppy-class diesel-electric boats, both in very poor condition, and two Dutch-built Hai-Lung-class boats commissioned in 1987/88.

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