Taiwan badly needs more weaponry to defend itself and a proposed 15 billion US dollar arms purchase is not aimed at starting an arms race with rival China, President Chen Shui-bian said Tuesday.
Chen also offered to talk with new opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou about the controversial purchase which has been blocked in the opposition-dominated parliament.
"The proposed arms purchase is not intended to engage in an arms race with the Chinese communists but to enhance self-defense capabilities, therefore safeguarding the hard-won democracy and prosperity," Chen said.
He made the remarks at a ceremony on the front-line island of Kinmen to mark a battle against China 47 years ago.
The Chinese communists in the late 1950s launched a series of attacks against Kinmen and surrounding areas controlled by Taiwan's then ruling Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party).
The KMT retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists.
Among the battles was the one starting on August 23, 1958 when China attempted to shell Kinmen into submission and lobbed 480,000 shells in a 44-day barrage, leaving the island pockmarked with craters.
In the following 20 years, Kinmen - an island of just 150 square kilometres (60 square miles) - was bombarded with shells containing propaganda leaflets from 7:00 pm to midnight on alternate days.
"The Cold War has ended after 47 years...but despite this, Taiwan people still come under threat of more than 700 ballistic missiles" targeting Taiwan, Chen said.
To defend the hefty arms package, Chen cited China's passage of an anti-secession law in March which authorises the use of military force against Taiwan if the island moves toward formal independence.
Chen also cited remarks in July by General Zhu Chenghu, who said China could use nuclear weapons to retaliate against the United States if Washington attacked the mainland in any conflict over Taiwan.
Zhu's remarks "further highlighted the potential crisis that could be sparked by China's fast arms buildup as it is tipping the military balance between Taiwan and China," Chen said.
Chen's offer to meet Ma on the arms sales was rejected.
The bill calls for the purchase of six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and a fleet of submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft from the United States over a 15-year period.
In December the legislature killed the original bill, which was priced at 610.8 billion Taiwan dollars (19 billion US).
The amended 15 billion US dollar package has failed to pass the legislature's procedure committee, a necessary step before it can be heard in the full house.
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