The report on Tuesday by the China Times, quoting unidentified sources, comes hours before US Vice President Dick Cheney arrives in China for a visit likely to focus on Chinese calls to halt US arms sales to the island.

   

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if the island declares independence. It views arms sales as encouraging Taiwan's ruling pro-independence party.

   

The China Times said the defence ministry planned to buy anti-missile weapons, including six Patriot PAC-3 missiles, worth $3 billion.

 

Weapons deal

   

The order is part of a huge weapons deal offered by US President George Bush to Taiwan in 2001. Taiwan proposed a $15 billion special budget last year to pay for the anti-missile systems as well as submarines, Kidd Class destroyers and submarine-hunting aircraft.

   

Defence Minister Tang Yao-ming said in February the plan was to push through the $15 billion special budget after the Taiwan presidential election on 20 March.

   

Bush offered the new range of
weapons to Taiwan

The China Times said Tang and other ministry officials reported the planned PAC-3 purchase to President Chen Shui-bian on Monday, but gave no other details.

 

Ministry officials were not available for comment.

   

The Pentagon said last month it planned to approve the sale to Taiwan of long-range early warning radar equipment worth as much as $1.78 billion, a deal that triggered an angry response from China.

   

The radar deal and the newspaper report come weeks after Chen narrowly won re-election in a fiercely contested poll.

   

China has about 500 missiles arrayed against the island and is adding one missile every six days, according to Chen.

   

The United States acknowledges China's claim to Taiwan, but makes no statement about Taiwan's status. It remains the self-ruling island's main arms supplier, major trade partner and biggest ally.

   

The weapons' sale that Bush offered three years ago would be the largest arms sale to Taiwan in a decade and has been delayed by budget constraints.