TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will deploy a new missile defence system by 2015 to protect bases from any attack by rival China, an official said on Wednesday, a sign that military distrust still runs deep despite a thaw in trade ties.
The island about 160 km (100 miles) from China is upgrading two batteries and adding four, anchored by Patriot III missiles from the United States, Deputy Defence Minister Andrew Yang said.
China has an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan and has shown no signs of removing them despite repeated calls from officials in Taipei. China, for its part, protests whenever Washington sells arms to the island.
The defence shield due in five years will be able to sight incoming Chinese short-range missiles, Yang said. Its T$40 billion ($1.25 billion) early-warning radar system can also track inbound ballistic and cruise missiles, local media said.
“It’s a confidence-boosting measure for Taiwan that we are able to defend ourselves,” Yang said, adding that the system would protect “critical military assets”.
The two sides have avoided military issues though they have met regularly since 2008 under Taiwan’s China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou to discuss trade and transit deals that have boosted the island’s $414 billion export-dependent economy.
China, which claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the 1940s and has never renounced the use of force to push for reunification, frets over any overt sign of Taiwan’s military muscle, especially when backed by U.S. weapons systems.
But as Beijing leads Taiwan in the balance of power, any reaction to the anti-missile system alone is expected to be muted.
Taiwan officials have said that to keep up with China they need more advanced weapons from the United States as well as home-grown arms now being researched.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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