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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Taiwan's Chen in submarine dive
By Caroline Gluck
BBC, Taipei

President Chen looking through a periscope (29/07/04)
President Chen boarded the Dutch-built Sea Tiger submarine
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has taken part in a rare submarine dive as part of the island's annual war games.

Speaking at a naval base near the port of Kaohsiung, President Chen said submarines were the best weapon to counter a growing threat from China.

The visit took place just days after China carried out its own exercises, simulating an invasion of Taiwan.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory, and has vowed to retake the island, by force if necessary.

President Chen boarded a Dutch-built attack submarine, the Sea Tiger, as it made a two-hour dive.

Other battleships, including French-made Lafayette frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, also took part in the naval exercise.

Military officials say the visit by the president, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was aimed at boosting morale.

But critics say the visit is likely to further stoke tensions with China.

In a speech back on dry land, President Chen blamed China for threatening peace in the Taiwan Strait, by increasing its military budget and deploying missiles aimed at Taiwan.

He said the island needed to strengthen its own defences.

The Sea Tiger and its sister vessel, the Sea Dragon, are Taiwan's only combat-ready submarines.

Parliament is being asked to approve an $18bn arms purchase from the United States.

The package, first offered three years ago, includes eight diesel engine submarines that account for the bulk of the budget.

The costly arms deal is proving highly controversial, and many fear it could spark an arms race in the region.

If it goes ahead, it will be the largest arms sale to Taiwan in a decade.

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09 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific


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