Fri, Oct 22, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China conducted huge drills in Strait

MILITARY MESSAGE The PLA sent more than 30 sorties by several groups of fighter and bomber aircraft to the midpoint of the Taiwan Strait last month, US sources say

By Nadia Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

According to US sources, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) mobilized 10 groups of various aircraft to make over 30 sorties approaching the center line of the Taiwan Strait late last month. The number of sorties in this period exceeded the record set in 1998 for the number of sorties on a single day. Taiwanese authorities monitored the activity, and the situation was extremely tense at the time.

On Oct. 22, Secretary of State Colin Powell will depart for a tour of Japan, South Korea and China. During his stopover in Beijing, he will speak with Chinese leaders about arms sales to Taiwan and about President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Double Ten national day speech. Last week, in a closed door gathering, Admiral Thomas Fargo, the commander of the US Pacific Command, said that in the short term, there will be no crisis in the Taiwan Strait, but that the US would maintain a high level of vigilance in the region.

Although there is no danger of an imminent crisis in the Strait, those concerned with US-Taiwan relations still believe that in the absence of dialogue and prior to the establishment of structures of mutual trust, there is still a considerable chance of a conflict being sparked accidentally. A number of US academics who have recently visited China have expressed unease over the attitude expressed by China's Minister of Defense Cao Gangchuan (曹剛川) and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxin (李肇星): that China would have no scruples over going to war on the Taiwan issue.

Sources revealed that on the day in question, Su-27, Su-30, J-8 and J-10 fighters, in addition to various bombers, made over 30 sorties approaching the center line in the Taiwan Strait. This intensity on a single day had not been seen since 1998. Although nothing untoward occurred as a result, both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and the Ministry of Defense were deeply concerned by China's provocative behavior.

The following day, Taiwan informed the US, saying that although Taiwan did not wish for conflict, it would not retreat in the face of such provocation and did not flinch from defending itself.

As ChinesePresident Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) had only recently taken over the position of chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the Fourth Plenum of the 16th CCP Central Committee, the US and Taiwan agreed that this show of force by the PLA was probably intended to show that it had no intention of softening its stance on Taiwan.

Larry Wortzel, deputy director of the Heritage Foundation, stated that when China obtains advanced aircraft, its tactics and training will also change. In recent exercises with the Indian military, India's Su-27s and Su-30s outperformed the US F-15s. For this reason, Taiwan cannot afford to disregard China's air power.

According to Mei Fu-hsing (梅復興), director of the Taiwan Strait Security Research and Analysis Center (台海安全研析中心), the number of planes deployed on China's coast is actually quite small, as its policy is to limit frontline deployment and keep its main force stationed in the rear to respond as needed. He said that the planes may simply have approached the center line during training as they "turned around" to return to their bases further inland.

This move effectively served to give Taiwan a fright, but this kind of training maneuver might actually become part of the PLA's tactics in future. Based on Taiwan's military intelligence figures, Chinese fighters made 464 sorties along the center line of the Taiwan Strait in 1998. The frequency of such sorties jumped to 1,226 in 1999 and since then has remained in the range between 1,220 and 1,380 every year since.

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