November 24, 2009 / 12:48 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. pledges new arms sales to Taiwan

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The United States plans to resume arms sales to Taiwan and warned of a build-up of missiles aimed at the island by China, a top U.S. diplomat said Tuesday.

Washington has not struck any new arms deals with Taiwan since President Barack Obama was sworn in at the start of the year, sparking concerns in Taipei that sales had been informally suspended.

Beijing opposes all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and has called previous deals a sticking point in Sino-U.S. relations.

Tuesday, however, Washington’s top diplomat in Taiwan said weapons sales would continue under Obama, although he declined to give specifics.

“The number (of Chinese missiles) continues to grow,” Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, told a news conference.

Taiwan leaders say China has aimed 1,000 to 1,500 short-range and medium-range missiles at the island.

“It’s a form of threat,” Burghardt said. “That’s the only way to look at it. Of course they should remove the missiles.”

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces 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.

Washington recognizes China diplomatically and is seeking to improve relations with the Asian economic powerhouse, but the U.S. is also Taiwan’s closest informal ally and obliged by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to help with its defense.

Taiwan is seeking a $4.9 billion deal for 66 advanced F-16s to modernize its military. Burghardt said the request was being evaluated.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by David Fox

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