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China Criticizes Taiwan's Plan to Purchase Anti-Missile Equipment from US - 2004-02-19

China is criticizing Taiwan's plans to purchase anti-missile equipment from the United States.

Arms experts say the defense package offered by the Bush administration three-years ago will be Taiwan's biggest weapons purchase from the United States in 10 years.

Speaking on a radio broadcast Wednesday, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said the U.S. equipment would be purchased even if a referendum on the island's defenses is defeated. The referendum, scheduled for March 20, will ask voters whether Taiwan should boost its defenses if it is threatened by an attack from the mainland.

Communist China considers democratic Taiwan a part of its territory, although the island has been self-governed for more than five decades. The government in Beijing has interpreted the plans for a referendum as a move toward independence. Beijing in the past has said it will not hesitate to use force if it thinks Taiwan is moving toward declaring independence.

President Chen's remarks on the weapons purchases drew angry warnings from the Chinese government Thursday. At a regular briefing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue repeated calls for the United States - Taiwan's largest weapons supplier - to stop selling defense equipment to the island.

Ms. Zhang says that if the United States continues to sell weapons to Taiwan, it will be violating its promises to China.

In a set of joint communiques issued by the United States and China over the years, Washington has agreed to abide by a one-China policy, meaning it recognizes Beijing and not Taipei as the legitimate government of China.

At the same time, the United States has an agreement to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

Aside from upsetting China, President Chen's push for a referendum has made U.S. officials nervous. President Bush has cautioned both sides not to take any unilateral action that would change the island's current status.

U.S. officials have said they question President Chen's motives for holding the referendum.

Mr. Chen is running for re-election on March 20, the same day as the referendum, and his opponents on the island have accused him of pushing the measure for political gain.