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Fri, May 26, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Situation normal on Kinmen amid China maneuvers

MILITARY EXERCISES The defense ministry is keeping silent on the drills and the nature of its intelligence gathering, but rumors persist of a new PLA weapon


China's live fire artillery exercises, which began yesterday, had little impact on Taiwan troops posted on the frontline outpost of Kinmen, officials with the Kinmen command said.

"The situation in Kinmen proper and the outlying islands was peaceful and quiet, with no signs of there being any effects from the artillery exercises held in neighboring waters between Quanzhou and Shenhu bays in Fujian Province," officials with the command said.

In Taiwan, the Ministry of National Defense said it did not want to comment further on the artillery exercises China was holding since they were routine and posed no threat to Taiwan's territory.

Officials with the defense ministry said, however, that the Chinese exercises, which began yesterday and will continue through May 31, will be closely monitored by intelligence units of the armed forces.

The officials said that they did not intend to make public details of the exercises, since doing this might expose to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) how Taiwan's military carried out its intelligence gathering.

Several years ago, the PLA suddenly cancelled an on-going drill off China's southeastern coast because reports in Taiwan suggested the Taiwan Navy had sent submarines to the exercise zone to collect information on the PLA navy capabilities, a defense official said.

While the defense ministry downplayed the drills and declined to make further comment, Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), chairman of the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation, said he believed the drills were intended to send a message to Taiwan.

"I am sure that the exercises were meant to send a message to Taiwan. But with my experience in handling cross-strait issues over the past few years, I believe the two sides of the Taiwan Strait know to keep control of themselves and will not do anything that may harm each other," Koo said.

Chinese military drills near Kinmen Island

* The exercises began yesterday and are expected to last until Tuesday

* The area used in the exercises covers 160 square kilometers

* The PLA is suspected to be testing a new artillery weapon

Without further information provided by the defense ministry, national media relied on various unnamed sources to provide follow-up reports on the drills.

An evening newspaper quoted unidentified defense officials as saying the artillery test started around 10am yesterday and that the PLA might be planning to test a new type of artillery-launched weapon.

Chang Li-teh (張立德), an editor at the Defense Technology Monthly magazine, said that to his knowledge there was only one new artillery-launched weapon in service with the PLA -- a Russian-made laser-guided missile.

"The missile is equivalent to the US-made Copperhead anti-tank missile, which is now in operation in Taiwan's army. It is a projectile fired from howitzers, effective against both tanks and land targets such as bunkers. It has a maximum range of over 20km," Chang said.

"This weapon will pose a big threat to islets of the Kinmen island group, such as Tatan and Erhtan, but not necessarily to Kinmen proper," he said.

"But generally speaking, the whole of the main island of Kinmen falls within the range of the PLA artillery fire," he added.

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