Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 1 News List

US downplays exercises by PLA opposite Taiwan

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

A senior US defense official has played down the large-scale Chinese military exercises off Fujian Province's Dongshan Island, describing them as routine activities that do not pose a threat.

Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, conceded however that the US is "watching them closely."

"I certainly don't see an imminent threat of a conflict'' as a result of the exercises, Rodman told reporters at a Washington media address that marked his public debut some five weeks after assuming the post as a key US advisor on Asia military issues.

"They have done exercises on a regular basis. I'm sure they learned something from it. They're modernizing their forces. But we're watching them closely, and perhaps we can learn something from that exercise, too," he said.

The exercises, which were first reported earlier this month, are said to involve as many as 100,000 PLA troops and several warships including recently acquired Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers.

They are reported to involve massive amphibious landing exercises that some experts say are intended to intimidate Taiwan, occurring as they do some 200km from the Taiwan coast. Rodman said that China has shown no restraint in its missile buildup in and around Fujian opposite Taiwan.

He indicated that the George W. Bush administration sees the buildup as a reason to go ahead with a massive missile defense system.

"I have not seen restraint in China's missile deployment, and it's certainly something we raised with them," he said. "They raise the question of missile defense, and I think a reasonable answer to make to them is, well, the missile defense is prompted by the fact that there are missiles.''

Regarding the apparent step up in US-Taiwan military relations under the Bush administration, Rodman said that efforts are being made to enhance communications and contacts between the two militaries, but that no firm decisions have been made.

While predicting "no imminent change" in the rules covering bilateral contacts, Rodman noted that "it doesn't serve anybody's interest for us and Taiwan not to be able to communicate on security matters."

However, "there are no decisions to announce yet," he said, noting that the "general interest" is served by having contacts. He said the current review is focusing on "practical" issues, and does not necessarily reflect a change in policy, which is covered by the Taiwan Relations Act and the Three Communiques.

The practical issue, he said, involved "improving our understanding of each other's thinking and strategic outlook, and also to strengthen deterrence, which is a clearly stated objective that we have."

In other issues, Rodman said any discussion of a theater missile defense system including Taiwan is "premature'' and said that no decisions have been made on specific weapons sales to Taiwan regarding the massive arms package agreed to by the Bush administration in April.

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