China's show of military might hits desired TV target

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The Independent Online




Right on cue, China's state television last night broadcast the show that Peking's leaders want Taiwan's voters to see. Within hours of China's live-fire military exercises ending on schedule at the south of the Taiwan Strait, footage of its Sukhoi fighters bombing target ships and warships firing missiles appeared on the evening news.

The official Xinhua news agency declared that the nine days of exercises had shown the People's Liberation Army's "powerful military might", with an exceptional range of aircraft, vessels, missiles, rockets and other ammunition. China's military "will never allow even one square inch of Chinese territory to be separated", it added.

With just two days left before Taiwan goes to the polls in its first democratic presidential election, a separate series of army, navy and airforce drills are still under way at the north end of the Taiwan Strait, albeit blighted by heavy rain. So far, this propaganda exercise, which is scheduled to continue until after the election, has been rather a damp squib, with "only a few ship activities", according to the Defence Ministry in Taipei.

Peking wants to frighten voters away from supporting President Lee Teng- hui, the man who is expected to win and who has said he will continue to work towards greater international recognition for Taiwan. Yesterday, Mr Lee said that mainland missiles "had bolstered solidarity" among the Taiwanese. His running mate, Lien Chan, who is prime minister, said Taiwan was nevertheless "seriously interested" in negotiating a peace agreement with the mainland after the elections.

In a compromise aimed at re-assuring Taiwan without enraging mainland China, the US has agreed to supply the island's forces with Stinger anti- aircraft missiles, but refused Taipei's request for $4bn (pounds 2.6bn) worth of diesel-powered submarines to help resist any Chinese naval blockade of Taiwan.

According to Clinton administration officials, the arms shipments agreed at this week's regular annual review of Taiwan's military requirements were "fairly modest", despite Peking's campaign of deliberately intimidatory naval exercises in the Straits of Taiwan. Apart from the Stinger missiles the US will provide an advanced targeting system for the Taiwanese airforce and other electronic warfare equipment.

The arms agreement is further proof that the White House will continue its existing balancing act, seeking to restrain Taiwan from unnecessarily provoking its giant neighbour, while signalling to Peking that aggression will not go unpunished.