Taiwan holds live-fire exercises as war games continue
TAIPEI (AFP) Jul 23, 2004
Taiwan staged live-fire cannon exercises Friday, continuing major annual military manoeuvres coinciding with large scale war games reportedly being conducted by rival China.

The anti-landing drill on the southwestern coast involved firing at targets seven kilometers (around four miles) off the coast.

Some 450 troops had joined the exercise, which is part of the annual Han Guang manouevres spanning three months until the end of August to demonstrate Taiwan's readiness in the event of an attack from China.

On Thursday around 5,000 Taiwanese troops joined exercises on the island's southern coast simulating an attempt to repel a beach landing, involving armoured vehicles and around 300 paratroopers.

The manoeuvres are taking place as Beijing urged the United States, Taiwan's leading arms supplier, to stop arms sales with the island given the "seriousness" of cross-strait ties.

"The United States should clearly understand the seriousness and sensitiveness of the Taiwan situation," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the US Pacific Command Friday.

Fargo is in China to meet with senior defence officials just days after the State Department urged China and Taiwan to ensure that military exercises on both sides are not provocative.

Li said US arms sales to the island should be halted and the US must "stop its relevant military exchanges aiming to upgrade the substantial relationship with Taiwan", the Xinhua news agency reported.

On Wednesday two French-built Mirage fighters landed on a highway in southern Tainan, where they were refuelled and loaded with short-range air-to-air missiles before taking to the skies again.

The air force said the exercise was to "review the air force's capability in using freeways for emergency landings and logistic support in case of war."

China has reportedly been carrying out large scale joint sea, land and air drills around Dongshan Island off the east coast and just 150 nautical miles west of Taiwanese territory.

Hong Kong papers have said the largest war games of the year were aimed at simulating an invasion of Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory despite their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Washington, a key Taiwan ally, urged restraint Wednesday.

"We think that everybody... should be very careful not to allow any incidents, not to allow any steps that might be provocative or might lead to an increase in tension," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Since pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected in March Beijing has stressed its long-standing vow to take Taiwan by force should the island try to declare independence from China.

The United States has remained the leading arms supplier to Taiwan despite its switch of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Under a 25-year-old US law called the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China but is bound by law to provide weapons to help the island defend itself if its security is threatened.