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Tue, May 09, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Defense ministry plays down China's wargames

TARGET TAIWAN As 100,000 troops from China mass across the shore from Taiwan, the defense ministry repeats that there is no real threat of invasion

By Brian Hsu and Nadia Tsao  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Reacting to media reports about large-scale military exercises to be launched by China shortly after Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) May 20 presidential inauguration, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday there were few clues to confirm a threat to Taiwan's security.

Military spokesman Kung Fan-ding (孔繁定) said troops of the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) were presently undergoing routine training and there were no signs of a massing of troops in the coastal regions of Taiwan -- which would suggest an imminent invasion.

"The activities of the PLA are always under close scrutiny. The defense ministry will make public the latest movements of the PLA if they pose a threat to the security of Taiwan," Kung said.

He made the remarks in response to press questions over reports about a planned large-scale military exercise by the PLA, said to be launched on May 25.

The exercises, which have been code-named "Qiong Dao No. 4 (瓊島四號)", are to be the largest of their kind since the 1995 to 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, involving nearly 100,000 troops, according to reliable sources.

Comprised of four separate drills, the exercise is to be conducted mainly on the Hainan Dao, with topographically-similar Taiwan being the apparent target. The drill on the island will focus on amphibious landing maneuvers.

In response to Kung's remarks, a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the military does not have the ability to get real-time information about PLA movements, without assistance from US spy satellites.

Even US spy satellites can not provide a 24-hour reconnaissance of the PLA, the official said.

The military still relies on information sent back from agents in China as its main source of information about the PLA's latest movements.

The official said that under these conditions it was doubtful that the military could monitor the PLA as closely as it claimed.

US Department of Defense spokesman Terry Sutherland, speaking in Washington yesterday, also played down the reports, saying there were "no indications of unusual activity in the Taiwan Strait."

He noted that the US was monitoring the situation closely, but there was nothing out of the ordinary to report. Other US officials, however, appear to have become more conservative in judging the cross-strait situation.

Darryl Johnson, former AIT director in Taipei and the incoming Deputy Assistant Secretary of Pacific Asia of State Department, said it was too early to be optimistic.

Johnson noted that China has not yet responded positively to the recent election results, warning that people should carefully watch what kind of action China takes after May 20.

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