WAR.WIRE
Chinese military drills imminent: report
HONG KONG (AFP) Jul 23, 2004
China will soon begin large scale sea, land and air exercises in the seas of its southern provinces, showcasing its most advanced weapons, a pro-Beijing newspaper reported Friday.

Some 18,000 troops have been training on Dongshan Island, 150 nautical miles west of Taiwan, and they will "in the coming days" participate in the drills between the southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, the Wen Wei Po said.

Previous reports from Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspapers said the war games had already started.

Quoting unidentified sources, the paper, long favoured by Beijing for its sabre-rattling towards Taiwan, said the exercises would be known as "212 project trial".

They will showcase nearly all of the Chinese military's advance weapons, including Sukoi Su-27 fighter jets, the FBC-1 "Fei Bao" (Flying Jaguar) indigenous fighter-bomber and the Il-76 jet transport aircraft, it said.

Also involved will be WZ-9 attack helicopters, the "Xiandai" (Modern) destroyer, the Kilo Class Diesel-Electric Submarine and the Dongfeng 15 Tactical Missile.

"Sukoi Su-27 fighter jets will be outfitted with KN59M guided air-to-surface missiles to shield the tank brigades in making a landing and engage in warfare," the report said.

Although the troop size in the annual exercise is not the biggest in recent years, the significance is that "the determined target is for the first time the securing of the air control of the Taiwan Straits".

The exercises will be presided over by senior officials of the Central Military Commission and the Fujian and Guangdong military.

Separately, "tens of thousands" of troops were participating in a separate military drill Friday in the seas around Zhangzhou port in Fujian province, the report added.

The Fujian port was closed for five hours and many civilian ships have been commissioned in the exercise, it said.

China has recently stepped up its rhetoric against Taiwan, warning pro-independence forces it has the military strength to invade the island.

Tension between Beijing and Taipei has been heightened since Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected this year, with China fearful his pro-independence moves were aimed at gaining formal independence.

Beijing has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunified, by force if necessary, since the Communists won a civil war and drove the defeated Nationalists into exile on the island in 1949.

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