Taiwanese military orders German helicopters

Taiwan's US-made F-16 fighter jets release flares during war games

Taiwan's military will buy up to 20 helicopters from a German manufacturer, it was confirmed today, days after Beijing lashed out at a multibillion-dollar US arms deal with the island.

China has yet to respond to news of the agreement, thought to be the first European sale to Taiwan's armed forces since the early 90s.

Taiwan's defense ministry spokesman Martin Yu said the island would buy EC-225 search-and-rescue helicopters. The $111m contract with Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS, is for three helicopters, with an option to buy up to 17 more.

The move could fray Sino-European ties, already under strain over trade and currency issues. Yesterday China filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization over the EU's anti-dumping tariffs on shoes.

The arms deal could also affect Beijing's relations with Taipei, which have improved markedly since President Ma Ying-jeou took office on a platform of improving ties two years ago.

However, others believe that China could remain silent or issue only a muted response if it is satisfied that the helicopters are not for military tasks.

The Taiwanese defense ministry said it was not an arms order and the EC-225 is a civilian model. But the Taiwanese armed forces have bought non-military helicopters in the past and customized them with equipment suited to military models.

Defense News, which first reported the sale, said the contract would be signed within a few days.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the helicopter sale.
Calls to the Taiwan Affairs Office rang unanswered.

China hit back unusually hard following last week's announcement of the US's $6.4bn arms package, which includes Patriot missiles, naval minesweepers and Black Hawk helicopters. It warned of plans to impose sanctions on US firms that sell weapons to Taiwan and said it was "unavoidable" that co-operation on wider issues would be affected.

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