TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan wants to buy at least six Aegis-equipped destroyers from the United States at a cost of more than $4.6 billion, a newspaper said on Monday, a plan sure to anger China which claims the island as its own.
The United Daily News quoted unnamed sources as saying Deputy Defense Minister Ko Cheng-heng and Chief of the General Staff Chen Yung-kang would travel to the United States this month to try to secure the deal.
The defense ministry declined to comment.
The navy could eventually buy an additional two destroyers after the initial six depending on the circumstances, the newspaper said.
The Aegis air defense radar and weapons system is capable of tracking and attacking dozens of missiles, aircraft and ships all at once.
The United States, the island’s main arms supplier, in 2001 put off a request from Taipei to buy four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the Aegis system, but kept the option open should China pose a sufficient threat.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.
Only a couple of dozen of mostly poverty-stricken countries recognize Taiwan worldwide compared with 170 recognizing China.
The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognizing “one China”, but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself should it come under attack.
But Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Taiwan lawmakers’ long delay in passing a budget to buy key weapons platforms.
It consequently declined to approve a request last year by Taipei to buy 66 F-16 fighter jets unless the budget was passed.
Taiwan’s parliament in June approved only a fraction of the stalled budget to buy U.S. weapons, which included 12 P-3C anti-submarine planes and upgraded PAC II anti-missile systems.