- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Chinese military forces are engaged in amphibious landing exercises on the coast of southern China, but defense officials said yesterday the maneuvers are routine and do not appear aimed at Taiwan.

The operations are an annual exercise involving several hundred marines and do not include large warship exercises, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

About five Chinese navy landing craft were spotted during one recent portion of the amphibious exercise near the port of Shanghai several hundred miles north of Taiwan, the officials said.

The exercises have not been announced publicly by the Chinese military and have been under way for about a week.

A defense official said Pentagon intelligence agencies assessed the maneuvers as more for "internal consumption" in China than any attempt to signal Chinese military intentions toward Taiwan.

"It's the same exercise they do every year," said the defense official, who is familiar with the report of the maneuvers.

Despite the exercises, "We're not seeing any unusual force movements," the official said.

Taiwan today ordered its military back onto a state of "heightened alertness," but the Defense Ministry refused to say why.

"We will continue to strengthen our combat readiness to ensure national security. We ask our compatriots to be at ease," the ministry said in an earlier statement, according to Reuters news agency.

U.S. military and civilian intelligence agencies have been watching China closely to see if Beijing will follow through on the drumbeat of threatening statements by senior Chinese leaders in the days leading up to presidential elections in Taiwan on Saturday.

Chen Shui-bian was elected president, ending the Chinese Nationalist Party's hold on power for five decades. Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party had called for declaring Taiwan an independent country.

Other military activities observed by U.S. intelligence agencies include some People's Liberation Army (PLA) troop rotations and lower-than-usual sorties by Chinese aircraft along the demarcation line separating Taiwan from the mainland, the official said.

Warplane flights over the Taiwan Strait increased sharply last summer after Taiwan's outgoing President Lee Teng-hui called for "state-to-state" relations between the mainland and Taiwan.

The remarks angered the Chinese government, which claims Taiwan is a breakaway province and not an independent country.

One Defense official also said China appeared to have toned down the belligerent statements against Taiwan. "We're seeing restrained rhetoric," said the official.

Since Saturday, China has cooled its rhetoric somewhat.

However, a Chinese military newspaper yesterday repeated an earlier reminder to the United States that defending Taiwan from military attack by China could lead to a nuclear war.

"The United States will not sacrifice 200 million Americans for 20 million Taiwanese," stated an article in a supplement of the Haowangjio Weekly, a PLA publication.

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