Taiwan air force to get 3 helicopters from Europe

TAIPEI: Taiwan said Friday its air force would get three rescue helicopters from Airbus sister company Eurocopter, in a development observers warned could worsen Chinese anger over military sales to the island.

The EC225 long-range transport helicopters, with a price tag of 110 million dollars, are scheduled to be delivered to Taiwan at the end of 2011 to join the air force's rescue team, said Yin Shih-hsien, an official at the air force.

The announcement comes amid an ongoing row between China and the United States over a US decision to deliver a 6.4-billion-dollar arms package to the island, which Beijing claims as its territory.

Taiwan has so far largely escaped being entangled in this row, as Beijing is eager to maintain friendly ties with the island's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, but analysts now questioned if it could last.

"The helicopter sale could chill Taiwan-China ties as Beijing might suspect Ma of taking a tougher stance in his policy towards the mainland," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Taipei's Soohow University.

Eurocopter is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), the parent company of Airbus and one of the three largest aerospace groups in the world.

This marked the third time Taiwan acquired military equipment from Europe, after its purchase of French-made Lafayette-class frigates and Mirage fighter jets in the early 1990s, according to local media.

Washington is the leading arms supplier to self-ruled Taiwan, even though it switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Beijing has threatened to use force if Taiwan declares formal independence, but ties have improved since Ma became president of Taiwan in 2008.