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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 September, 2004, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Arms plan sparks Taiwan protests
By Caroline Gluck
BBC correspondent in Taipei

Protesters in Taipei, Taiwan
Protesters included many former military officers
Thousands of protesters have marched across Taiwan's capital, Taipei, in protest at government plans to buy $18bn (9.9bn) of arms from the US.

The government says Taiwan needs to boost its defence capabilities against China.

But the protesters - who included politicians from opposition parties and retired generals - say the deal could spark an arms race.

They say the money would be better spent on public welfare projects.

Taiwan says China has targeted more than 600 missiles at the island.

China regards the island as a breakaway province to be reunited by force if necessary.

Both Taipei and Beijing have been conducting routine war games over the last few months, preparing for the possibility of cross-Strait conflict.

Despite the rain, thousands of people took to the streets to join the protest.

Pearl tea protest

The deal has been approved by cabinet, but still needs to be passed by the opposition-controlled parliament.

The weapons package includes Patriot Pac-III anti-missile systems, eight diesel submarines and anti-submarine aircraft.

But many opposition politicians are against the plan and they have been taking part in the protest.

More than 100 former military officers have also signed a petition opposing the plan.

The ministry of defence, meanwhile, has stepped up its own lobbying efforts to tell the public why the arms purchase should go ahead and has been playing down the cost.

In a leaflet campaign, the ministry says that Taiwan could save enough money to buy the arms if everyone drank one less cup of Taiwan's popular pearl or bubble tea over the next 15 years.

The tea, which features chewy tapioca balls sucked up through a straw, was invented in Taiwan and has recently become a popular drink overseas.

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