Wednesday, June 2, 2004

China’s military is preparing to hold large-scale war games intended as a “political message” to Taiwan, amid heightened tensions between the island and mainland, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The military exercises are part of China’s annual maneuvers involving large numbers of troops, ships, aircraft and missiles, and will take place on Dongshan Island. The island is located off the coast of Fujian province along the southern Chinese coast near Taiwan.

A U.S. intelligence official said the exercises will begin later this month.

“It isn’t just a training exercise. It’s also intended to send a political message [to Taiwan],” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The official said the political message in the exercises is one of “military readiness,” intended to signal to Taiwan that China is ready to use force if necessary to reunite the island with the mainland.

Past war games on Dongshan, which is used for amphibious assault exercises, have involved 30,000 to 100,000 troops and large numbers of warships, submarines and combat aircraft.

The maneuvers are set to begin as the governments of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) last week traded accusations that rival patrolling warplanes crossed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait into Chinese- and Taiwanese-controlled waters.

The government-owned Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which first disclosed the exercises in a report published Monday, said that about 18,000 troops would participate and that the war games are practice for “seizing control of the air over the Taiwan Strait.”

The exercises are expected to continue through July, the newspaper said.

China’s communist government has expressed anger through press statements in recent weeks. China views plans by Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian for a referendum on updating the island’s constitution in 2006 as a move toward formal independence, which Beijing opposes.

The Pentagon on Friday released an annual report on Chinese military power, which said Beijing is making strides at boosting its space defense capabilities.

The report provided information that the Chinese military is working on methods of space warfare against U.S. intelligence.

It was the first public warning by the Pentagon that the Chinese are considering ways of “blinding” U.S. eyes in space before launching any attack on Taiwan.

The space-warfare elements of the report bolster the findings of a 1999 congressional commission led by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, that said China is developing space weapons.

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