- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

Chinese military forces opposite Taiwan have been placed on the highest state of alert as Beijing begins large-scale annual war games, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The maneuvers in Fujian province include thousands of ground troops and amphibious forces that have begun grouping in the southern China coastal region.

"So far we have not seen any ships," said one U.S. official who is monitoring the war games.

A second U.S. official said the war games are under way. "We're watching it closely," he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies photographed lines of tanks and armored vehicles on roads between the Fujian capital of Fuzhou and the coastal city of Xiamen, directly across the 100-mile strait from Taiwan.

The heightened alert was picked up by U.S. intelligence agencies based on military communications in the region, U.S. officials said.

War games near Taiwan triggered the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, when China fired short-range missiles to ocean areas north and south of Taiwan. The United States responded by sending two aircraft-carrier battle groups to waters near the island.

The maneuvers in 1996 were judged by U.S. Navy intelligence officials as a possible prelude to military action against Taiwan.

China's communist government has stated repeatedly that it would use force to reunite the island with the mainland if Taiwan's government declares independence.

Chinese newspaper Wen Wei Po reported yesterday that the war games will involve as many as 100,000 troops. The maneuvers are expected to continue for six months.

The communist Chinese-owned Hong Kong newspaper, quoting unidentified sources, reported yesterday that the drills are part of a "routine annual military exercise" designed to "test the comprehensive fighting abilities of the three services in joint-landing operations."

The report said the war games will be carried out longer than they were last year and will involve exercises with Chinese military units from the Nanjing and Guangzhou provinces.

The sources suggested that the target of the war games is Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province.

Tensions have increased between China and Taiwan in recent weeks.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan on Thursday criticized remarks by Taiwanese leader Chen Shuibian who said the island is set for independence.

Mr. Kong told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that the remarks, which appeared last week in Newsweek magazine, did not improve cross-strait relations.

He said those who advocate Taiwan's independence are "creating tension."

Despite saying Beijing wants a peaceful reunification, Mr. Kong said, "We cannot undertake to renounce the use of force for the reason that there are people attempting to separate China and uphold Taiwan independence."

Meanwhile, German magazine Der Spiegal reported yesterday that Mr. Chen has accused Chinese leaders of attempting to influence democratic elections in Taiwan.

Mr. Chen told the publication there is evidence the communists had spent money on "candidates they were fond of in order to manipulate the elections."

Chinese officials also have pressured Taiwanese business people to curb support for his ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Mr. Chen said.

Mr. Chen also said he did not expect major changes in cross-strait relations after Communist Party leadership changes are made this year. "We cannot be all too optimistic," he said.

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