Taiwan says US arms will help ties with China

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan said Wednesday that weapons purchases from the United States can give it the confidence it needs to pursue reconciliation with rival China — an apparent rebuke to Beijing’s denunciations of American arms deals with the island.

Earlier in the day China’s Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing reaffirmed its strong opposition to U.S. arms transactions with Taipei, saying “the stand we take in opposing any country selling arms to Taiwan has been consistent and clear.”

The Chinese comment — one of several in recent weeks — comes in the immediate wake of the Pentagon’s awarding a $969 million contract to Lockheed Martin for the provision of 263 PAC-3 air defense missiles to Taiwan and a $1.1 billion contract to Raytheon Co. for production of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System for the island.

Further deals — including for utility helicopters and design plans for diesel submarines — may be announced in coming weeks.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council said that Beijing should understand that weapons deals with the U.S. did not threaten its interests.

“Procuring arms from the United States is for the country’s security and defense so that Taiwan can feel more confident and stronger in the process of reconciling and negotiating with mainland China,” MAC said in a statement. “We thank the U.S. for its long-term support.”

Communist-ruled China split with Taiwan amid civil war in 1949 and continues to regard it as part of its territory. Beijing sees arms sales to the island as interference in its internal affairs and has frequent diplomatic spats with the United States, which pledged to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself in 1979.

Since taking office 19 months ago, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has made improved relations with China the centerpiece of his administration, turning the corner on his predecessor’s pro-independence policies.

But many Taiwanese remain wary of Beijing’s long-term intentions and fear that it could eventually follow through on its oft-repeated threat to take the island over by force — a stance backed up by the deployment of some 1,300 missiles aimed at Taiwanese targets.

China responded to the last U.S. arms offer by rejecting Hong Kong port calls by the USS Kitty Hawk and other American ships in November 2007.