Thu, May 25, 2000 - Page 1 News List

China will test artillery off Kinmen

STRAIT TENSION Minister of National Defense Wu Shih-wen has confirmed that China will carry out military drills near Kinmen beginning today, but also played down the exercises as merely `routine'

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday confirmed media reports that the Chinese military is to stage live-fire artillery excercises for six days starting today, covering a 160 square kilometer sea area close to Taiwan's frontline outpost of Kinmen.

The MND said in a press release that the artillery test, to be held between Quanzhou (泉州) and Shenhu (深滬) Bays off China's Fujian Province, is a routine drill of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Minister of National Defense Wu Shih-wen (伍世文) assured the public that the live-fire drill is by no means directed against Taiwan. "There is nothing provocative about Chinese artillery firing shells into seas off Kinmen. Our troops on Kinmen do the same thing as well, though not on a constant basis," Wu said.

But military analysts said the matter may not be as simple as Wu seemd to think. They said the drill will take place close enough to Kinmen to cause jitters in Taiwan and that an accidental or intentional misfire by PLA troops could trigger a war between the two sides of the Strait.

The day after his inauguration, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) traveled to Kinmen, where he performed his first review of troops in his capacity of commander of the armed forces.

Analysts questioned whether the Chinese exercise was being carried out in response to the president's visit to the island.

Wu called on the public to not be intimidated by what he said were routine military maneuvers by China and denied media reports that anti-submarine aircraft based in Hualien scrambled early yesterday to track a suspected Chinese submarine detected off the east coast.

"It is true that a number of anti-submarine aircraft in Hualien, including S-2Ts and S-70Cs, had taken off early today for an emergency mission. But the mission was to provide escort service to naval supply ships set to leave Hualien harbor that night en route to certain offshore islands. The re-supply trip was later cancelled because of bad weather conditions," Wu said.

Wu spoke at a meeting of the Legislative Yuan's defense committee in response to inquiries from legislators over the reported sighting of a Chinese submarine off the eastern coast early yesterday morning.

Wu, however, denied once again that three Chinese military vessels had been detected off Suao on the northeastern coast on the eve of the May 20 presidential inauguration.

Despite Wu's attempts to brush off the string of reports about unusual sightings of suspected Chinese military craft around Taiwan, a local Internet-based news service reported yesterday a Chinese submarine was detected by a navy Knox-class frigate somewhere off the east coast.

The ETToday news service quoted unnamed navy officials as saying that the Knox-class frigate lost the Chinese submarine when it tried to use towed sonar to accurately position the sub.

It said the frigate's crew was sure that the submarine belonged to the Chinese navy since it appeared at a time when Chinese subs were carrying out simulations of various types of military action against Taiwan.

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