TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said on Tuesday China now had 1,328 ballistic missiles aimed at the self-ruled island, up by more than a third from a previous estimate, further threatening stability in the Taiwan Strait.
In his final New Year's Day address before stepping down in May, Chen said the number of short-range ballistic missiles deployed against Taiwan had proliferated from 200 in 2000, when he took office, and now exceeded his most recent estimate of 988.
Taiwan has been ruled separately from China since 1949 when Mao Zedong's Communists won a civil war on the mainland. Beijing still claims sovereignty over the democratically ruled island of 23 million people and has threatened war if it formally moves towards independence.
Chen railed against China's growing military threat, saying its People's Liberation Army had already finalized plans for an invasion and planned to push out the bounds of its airspace.
"In addition to setting in motion a three-stage plan for its People's Liberation Army to invade Taiwan, Beijing is poised to designate an "air defense identification zone" in the Taiwan Strait and open a new civil air route along the median of the Taiwan Strait," said Chen.
"In doing so, China is once again challenging and attempting to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait," he added.
Chen has previously said that the three-stage plan includes establishing combat preparedness for contingencies in the Strait by 2007, ensuring capabilities for large-scale engagements by 2010 and being ready to ensure a decisive victory over Taiwan by 2015.
The president again defended his plan to hold a referendum on seeking the island's entry into the United Nations under the name "Taiwan" alongside presidential elections in March. The plan has angered both Beijing and Washington, the island's key ally.
"This is an expression of our people's will. Referendum is a basic right guaranteed by law ... China utterly opposes referendum, democracy, and respect for human rights, while other nations are weighing national interests against democratic values," Chen said.
Chen, who has served two four-year terms, is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election.