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Thu, May 04, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Fighter false alarm

AIR ATTACK Defense officials called a press conference to retract claims that fighter planes from China have recently crossed the `middle line' of the Taiwan Strait

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

China's fighter planes have not encroached on Taiwan's air space, the Ministry of National Defense confirmed yesterday, refuting media reports claiming incursions across the "middle line" of the Taiwan Strait.

A private meeting on Tuesday between lawmakers and Chief of the General Staff General Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) had generated reports that Chinese fighter planes had crossed into Taiwan air space, in an attempt to spark an armed confrontation between the two sides.

At an emergency press conference on Tuesday evening, defense officials said the reports were not true, as they were based on a misinterpretation of what General Tang had said to lawmakers from the People First Party (PFP).

"What Tang said at that meeting involved two separate cases of Chinese fighter planes crossing the middle line of the Taiwan Strait last summer -- after President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) redefined cross-strait relations as being special `state-to-state' in nature," defense ministry spokesman Major General Kung Fan-ding (孔繁定) said.

"Tang did not talk about any recent occurrence of the same kind to the lawmakers. There has been no close approach of Chinese fighter planes since the last two incidents, which occurred last July and last August respectively," Kung said.

Despite the defense ministry's denial, Wang Tien-ging (王天競) -- one of the PFP lawmakers who had met with Tang -- insisted what he heard was news of intentional crossings of the middle line of the Taiwan Strait by Chinese warplanes on several separate occasions, both before and after the March 18 presidential election.

Another PFP lawmaker, Chin Huei-chu (秦慧珠), also at the meeting, said she was not so sure about what exactly had been said.

According to Chinese newspapers that quoted unidentified PFP lawmakers, Tang said the air force did nothing to stop the fighter planes from entering Taiwan's airspace so as to avoid the possibility of an outbreak in hostilities.

But another defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday there had indeed been sightings of close approaches by Chinese warplanes over the past few months.

The official said that on at least one occasion it had been US planes which expelled the intruders.

At the end of February, five Chinese military planes flew west of the offshore Penghu islands, under close watch by a number of US fighter planes, the official said.

The planes, including two Hung-6 bombers and three Su-27 jet fighters, were only 10 nautical miles away from Penghu at the closest, the official said.

The antiquated Hung-6 bombers do not pose a real threat to Taiwan by themselves, but some have reportedly been converted into electronic warfare planes.

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