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Taiwan says China has 1,500 missiles aimed at island

TAIPEI (Reuters) - China has raised the number of short-range missiles aimed at political rival Taiwan to about 1,500, officials and experts said on Friday, a sign of continued distrust between the two sides despite a recent warming of ties.

Visitors take photographs and walk past a Hongqi-2 Missile in the hall of weapons at the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing January 20, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

China expanded its arsenal last year even as tensions eased under China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who has spearheaded high-level dialogue and scaled back local military exercises since taking office in May, the island’s top China policymaker Lai Shin-yuan said.

“In this period of warmth, a war won’t break out, but don’t forget China still has 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan -- more than 1,500 -- and that’s not right,” Lai told Reuters. “They’re always adding (missiles).”

Taiwan’s military estimated early last year there were 1,300 missiles aimed at the island.

China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

“This is something we keep appealing to mainland China, to take the missiles offline,” Lai said. “If you take so many missiles and aim them at a neighbour, will he feel comfortable?”

Beijing added missiles every year as a deterrent and to update its arsenals, said Andrew Yang, secretary general with the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a Taipei think tank.

The Dong Feng 11 and Dong Feng 15 short-range ballistic missiles are believed to be based in Southeast China, about 160 km (100 miles) from Taiwan.

Taiwan has cut annual live-fire military drills to once every two years and reduced its 2009 defence budget.

China’s defence budget for 2009 has not been released. In 2008, the government said it would spend 418 billion yuan ($61 billion) on defence, up 17.6 percent on 2007.

Beijing says its defence budget is purely for defensive purposes.