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Taiwan Concerned About Shrinking Military Budget - 2002-07-23

Taiwan's military warns that China will have 600 missiles aimed at Taiwan in three years. Taipei is concerned about its shrinking military budget in the face of Beijing's growing strength.

A new National Defense Report by Taiwan's military warns that in three years, China will have nearly 600 missiles aimed at the island.

Defense experts say an initial missile attack might be part of China's latest strategy to force Taiwan's immediate surrender before help could arrive.

China has raised its weapons spending 17 percent over last year, to $20 billion. The Taiwan report, which is issued every two years, however, echoes earlier United States estimates that China's real military spending could be three or four times higher than Beijing has publicly stated.

Despite Beijing's rising defense spending, the report says, Taiwan's military spending has declined for years.

Lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties have expressed doubts about Taipei's ability to afford the eight diesel-powered submarines and four destroyers the U.S. government offered to sell the island last year.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, although the island has been governed separately since the Nationalist government fled there in 1949 at the end of China's civil war. Beijing has warned it might use force to take control over the island if the Taipei government moved toward declaring independence.

The United States insists the two sides should settle the issue peacefully, and has sold Taiwan weapons to use in fending off any attack from China.