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U.S. Navy study 'backs Taiwan arms upgrade'

Taiwan military
Taiwan has just four submarines, two of which are World War II vintage target="new"  

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A confidential study by the United States Navy has recommended that Taiwan needs to undertake a wide-ranging modernization of its maritime defense systems, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The study recommends Taiwan acquire a range of new weapons including a sophisticated U.S.-made ship-based radar system -- the Aegis -- which rival China doesn't want Taiwan to have.

President George W. Bush is due to decide later this month whether to agree to a request from Taiwan for it to be allowed to purchase a major new package of arms.

China has warned that a decision to approve the sale could have major implications for relations between Washington and Beijing.

Last month Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen told officials in Washington that such arms sales could provoke a war in the cross-straits region.

According to the Times, the confidential study was carried out by officers from the United States Pacific Fleet who visited Taiwan to assess it's naval requirement in light of China's recent military build-up.

Their conclusions were circulated among officials in Washington and Taiwan, and served as the basis for a Pentagon report on Taiwan's naval modernization, the Times said.

'Breakaway province'

But the report is expected to generate controversy among Bush administration officials, who are divided over improving relations with China, and protecting Taiwan's interests.

Taiwan military
Experts say Taiwan will need a system like the Aegis by the end of the decade  

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to invade if the island makes moves towards declaring formal independence from the mainland.

It singled out three types of weapons that it believes the United States should not sell Taiwan: the Aegis radar defense system, the U.S. Army's advanced Patriot antimissile system and submarines, which China believes are offensive weapons.

At the top of Taiwan's shopping list is the Aegis system, which it tried to purchase last year, during the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

Its purchase has been the subject of public debate, because China believes the system could provide the basis of an anti-missile defense system.

But the Times says that the type of Aegis system being considered for sale to Taiwan would not be equipped with an interceptor that could counter China's ballistic missiles if they were directed at the island.

Aside from recommending that Taiwan be allowed to buy the Aegis system, the officers concluded that the island needed new submarines.

Taiwan currently has four, including two that are of World War II vintage, which it uses for training and which cannot go more than 150 feet below the surface.

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