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    Military to hold drills at Dongshan
Bao Daozu
2004-07-13 06:47

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) will carry out joint sea, land and air military exercises later this month at Dongshan Island in East China's Fujian Province, a military source has disclosed, saying the final date will partially depend on weather condition.

"The annual exercise is an examination of the training level and operational thinking of the PLA, as well as an out-door show of the army's armament development," the source said under the condition of anonymity.

When asked whether this year's highlights will be air dominance as has been reported in the foreign press, the source did not reply directly, but said that every exercise has a different emphasis, such as offensive landings, dominance at sea and in the air, and information technology.

"It is both necessary and reasonable to hold military exercises in order to beef up the army," the source said.

The military exercise at Dongshan Island, which is located at southwest of the Taiwan Straits and 277 kilometres away from Penghu Islands, began in 1996 and has so far been held eight times. The exercise conducted in 2001 was the largest ever joint exercise of the three services (army, navy and air force), involving nearly 100,000 troops.

Observers regard the exercise as a response to the tension across the Taiwan Straits.

"In a political sense, the PLA sends a message to Taiwan separatists and those outside forces who want to split Taiwan from China," a Beijing-based international studies expert said.

He explained that the chances of an armed confrontation have increased with the re-election in March of pro-independence Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian.

Following his highly disputed re-election, Chen has stated time and again his intention to hold a referendum for the drafting of a new "constitution" in 2006 and enacting it in 2008. Such a push is widely believed to be Chen's attempt to achieve formal independence for the island.

Beijing views the plan as "a naked Taiwan independence timetable" which is set to result in tensions and danger in the Taiwan Straits.

Military experts say that Beijing hopes to avoid conflict, but it is "prepared for the worst."

Beijing has repeatedly stressed the Chinese Government advocates the final purpose of cross-Straits negotiations is to achieve peaceful reunification and that any question can be discussed under the one-China principle.

"The road to China's reunification is by no means smooth and the ball is in Taiwan's court," said a strategy studies expert surnamed Wang.

The expert also refuted the intention of some outside forces to maintain military balance across the Straits, saying that no sovereign country will tolerate the existence of military balance with its separatists.

There is no reason to regard China's defence as a "threat" to the region, the expert said.

Just in the areas around China, about 300 different-level military exercises take place every year, and most of them are directed against China.

"China has never adopted expansionary policies abroad and believes in peaceful and friendly handling of relations with its neighbours instead," he said.

Military analysts said the Dongshan drill is an "active" one since the nation finds it is necessary to "build up the confidence and capacity of its army to prepare for any crisis."

(HK Edition 07/13/2004 page1)