- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

BEIJING — With blazing tanks, attack boats and helicopter gunships, Taiwans armed forces rehearsed over the weekend for the islands nightmare scenario: invasion by Chinas Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).
The live-fire war games come just days before President Bush decides whether to risk Beijings fury by selling Taiwan the sophisticated weaponry its military says is necessary to repel the mainlands unwanted advances.
Taiwanese Drill Commander Chen Chin-sheng told reporters, "I believe the impressive effect of these exercises will increase the confidence of our people about the ability of our armed forces to defend the country."
Taiwans annual Chinese Glory exercises form a counterpoint to Chinas annual war games off Hainan island, which provides the PLA with ideal conditions to simulate the forcible reunification of China with what it sees as a renegade province.
A U.S. reconnaissance plane remains on Hainan two days after American negotiators departure from China. Sometimes-rancorous talks in Beijing last week brought no agreement on U.S. demands for the planes return or Chinese demands that the United States end surveillance flights close to Chinese territory.
The weekend practice drills presupposed a Chinese air and sea invasion, even though many analysts believe that, in a crisis, Beijing would opt instead for a pre-emptive missile strike.
U.S. surveillance planes like the EP-3E that made an emergency landingin Hainan on April 1 regularly monitor the increasing deployment of ballistic missiles on the Chinese coast opposite Taiwan.
The Taiwan government therefore is pressing Washington to sell it destroyers equipped with top-of-the-line Aegis radar defense systems capable of simultaneously tracking more than 100 missiles, ships, submarines or aircraft.
Beijing bitterly opposes any such sale.
"It is quite a coincidence that Taiwan holds military exercises at the time of the aircraft collision and the sensitive arms sales," said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a private think tank in Taipei with links to Taiwans military.
"But the exercises were planned and announced last year."
The United States has stressed that the midair collision between the EP-3E and a Chinese fighter jet has no direct link to arms sales to Taiwan, but Mr. Yang believes U.S. officials inevitably will consider the issues in parallel.
"The collision shows China is seriously addressing issues of sovereignty," he said by telephone from Taipei.
"It sends a political message that China is a rising power, its military forces are expanding, and it is projecting its power in the region.
"U.S. legislators may feel the need to maintain the regional balance."
Taiwanese officials visit Washington this week to discuss the islands defense modernization needs for the next decade.
Aegis-equipped destroyers, at $1.2 billion each, are at the top of what Mr. Yang calls Taiwans longest shopping list in many years. Other items on the list include Apache Longbow helicopter gunships and diesel submarines.
Despite increased support in Washington for arming Taiwan following Chinas detention of the surveillance plane crew for 11 days, Mr. Yang said he expects Mr. Bush to compromise on the weapon sales.
He predicts that Washington will delay a decision on both the Aegis system and the submarines, which are possibly too offensive in nature to fit with the U.S. rationale of protecting Taiwan from attack.
"The U.S. will want more time to look at the implications for Sino-U.S. relations," said Mr. Yang.
He cautioned his countrymen not to press for a quick decision, nor to regard failure to secure the prized hardware as a sign the United States is cutting its support for Taiwans defense.

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