Budget-wary Taiwan to defer U.S. arms purchases

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will ask the United States to defer sales of two advanced weapons systems, officials said on Thursday, a setback for its defenses against China and to U.S. leaders who have lobbied for arms despite Beijing’s opposition.

The island that depends on Washington for its best weaponry will request postponing sales to save money after two years of budget shortfalls and a likely third next year [ID:nTOE67J014], a senior legislator close to the military said.

Washington will surprised by the request, analysts say. Taiwan has previously pushed U.S. officials for arms to shore up its imbalance of power with military rival China.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

The United States recognizes Beijing’s “one China” policy, but remains Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier and ally.

U.S. leaders who are sympathetic to Taiwan have weathered the wrath of China, an economic powerhouse that is crucial to U.S. foreign and trade policy, to approve weapons sales for the self-ruled island.

“It’s going to hurt (Taiwan) in Washington to fight for these systems and then say they can’t afford them,” said Wendell Minnick, Asia bureau chief with Defense News. “It would discourage people in Washington who push hard for the releases.”

China has as many as 1,900 missiles aimed at Taiwan, island officials estimate. The two sides have avoided talks on military issues despite a thaw in ties since 2008.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Ken Wills