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International relations

In Beijing rebuke, Taiwan signals closer defense ties with US and Japan

Report slams Chinese challenge to cross-strait status quo

Taiwanese troops take part in a ceremony at a naval base in Kaohsiung. Taipei raised alarm bells over Beijing's military capabilities in its latest white paper.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's defense ministry called for greater cooperation with the U.S. and other countries to counter growing military pressure from mainland China in a defense white paper issued Wednesday, as Beijing and Washington vie for greater influence in the region.

China poses a dire challenge to Taiwan's security as it attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese Defense Minister Yen De-fa said in the introduction to report, citing a March incident when Chinese military aircraft crossed their de facto maritime border.

Wednesday's white paper comes as China quickly outpaces Taiwan in military spending. The mainland's defense budget for 2019 came to 1.19 trillion yuan ($167 billion), dwarfing the island's 346 billion New Taiwan dollars ($11.1 billion).

The white paper also included a new section regarding Taiwan's role in the Indo-Pacific region. It pointed to cooperation with such countries as the U.S., Japan and Australia, and said the island will continue to strengthen its partnerships with fellow democracies.

The U.S. named Taiwan a "reliable, capable and natural" partner, along with Singapore, New Zealand and Mongolia, in a Defense Department report from June on the U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific. Washington is eager to bolster ties in the region to curb China's growing military presence in the East and South China seas.

The Taiwanese white paper says that China refuses to abandon the option of armed aggression against Taiwan, and is trying to upset the military balance between the two sides by accelerating efforts to modernize its forces.

In response to this gap, the Trump administration decided last month to sell up to $8 billion worth of arms, including 66 F-16 fighter jets, to Taiwan. The island had been requesting new fighters for over a decade.

Our determination to defend ourselves also won support from the international society," Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said at a military event at the end of August citing this sale.

But Beijing has strongly criticized Washington's decision, and is demanding that the arms deal be canceled.

Taiwan's defense white paper is updated every other year. Wednesday's report is the second under independence-leaning Tsai.

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