- China has massed amphibious vehicles and landing craft
on an island near Taiwan as part of large-scale military exercises that
are now under way, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
- At least 157 amphibious craft and vehicles were spotted
recently on Dongshan island by U.S. intelligence-gathering aircraft. The
island is located across the Taiwan Strait from southern Taiwan.
- The exercise is raising concerns among some in the Pentagon
that China is practicing for a future invasion of Taiwan or an attack on
one of Taiwan's smaller islands near the Chinese coast.
- "We have not seen these kinds of forces there for
some time," said one intelligence official, who noted that the numbers
were three times higher than during past exercises. The amphibious exercise
is expected to be one of the largest shore-based war games held by the
Chinese military in recent years.
- Other defense officials sought to play down the exercises.
One official said the Dongshan maneuvers are "Phase 2" of war
games under way in the South China Sea.
- "This is part of the spring amphibious exercise
series," the official said. "Dongshan is right across from Taiwan,
but we think these are normal [exercises]. It is not unusual for the Chinese
to put everything they have into the mix."
- A third official said the equipment involved in the exercise
includes amphibious tanks, jeeps, armored vehicles and landing craft. The
maneuvers also are expected to employ hovercraft troop transports deployed
from large amphibious ships.
- Amphibious assault landings during exercises by U.S.
Marine Corps forces normally include scores of landing craft and some water-capable
tanks and armored combat vehicles. In February 1945, for instance, when
U.S. Marines assaulted the island of Iowa Jima it took 495 ships to land
- Preparations for the amphibious exercise near Taiwan
come as Chinese forces are engaged in another military exercise farther
south in the South China Sea, said officials familiar with U.S. intelligence
- Activities related to both exercises were first reported
by The Washington Times on May 17. U.S. officials said the South China
Sea drills involve Chinese naval and air forces on Hainan island and on
Woody Island, a small disputed islet claimed by both China and the Philippines.
- The amphibious warfare arms on Dongshan were photographed
last week and their presence was reported to Pentagon policy-makers.
- Taiwan's Defense Ministry said Friday that the military
drills are "routine." His statement did not provide details on
the exercises. "They are not targeted [at Taiwan] and have nothing
to do with the president's visit abroad," the ministry said in a statement,
referring to the fact that Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian currently is
traveling in South America.
- Reports of the Chinese military exercises caused stocks
to fall and the value of the Taiwanese dollar to drop.
- A Taiwanese government official said on Friday that Chinese
military exercises and missile deployments near Taiwan are not helpful
in improving ties between the two countries. "We don't feel military
intimidation is constructive," said Tsai Ing-wen, head of the Taipei
government's Mainland Affairs Council, Reuters reported from Taipei. "Military
exercises and missile deployment targeting Taiwan violate the mainland's
commitment of using peaceful means to solve the problems across the Strait,"
- A Pentagon report to Congress on the Taiwan Strait military
balance said an invasion of the island by China is one of three possible
forms of attack. "The PRC could launch an invasion of Taiwan (or an
offshore island), using amphibious or other sea or air transported forces,"
the report said. Other possibilities include a blockade or combined air
and missile attacks.
- Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific,
has said a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is not likely because China's military
lacks ships for moving troops and equipment over water. China has fewer
than 100 amphibious warfare ships capable of carrying large numbers of
troops and tanks.
- Dongshan, where the current exercises are being held,
was the main site of China's 1996 military amphibious exercises involving
ground, air and naval forces. Those maneuvers also included missile test
firings north and south of Taiwan.
- The exercises and missile launches were viewed by the
Pentagon at that time as possible preparations for a military attack on
Taiwan. They came amid preparations for elections in Taiwan and were seen
as part of efforts by Beijing to intimidate Taiwanese voters.
- The United States responded with the dispatch of two
aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan in a show of force.
- China's military has been building up its naval forces
since the 1996 standoff that has become known as the Taiwan Strait crisis.
- Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military,
said Beijing will likely use the maneuvers to showcase their new amphibious
tanks, armored personnel carriers and jeeps near Taiwan.
- "We should be very concerned about this exercise
and what the combined PLA exercises over the last two years tell us about
the accelerating capability of the People's Liberation Army to conduct
combined arms warfare," Mr. Fisher said.
- Mr. Fisher said that China's limited amphibious warfare
capability can be used for a range of operations, from attacking Taiwan's
small islands to conducting a security following large-scale aerial bombing
and missile attacks.
- A photograph of a new Chinese armored personnel carrier
shows a combat vehicle with an outboard motor attached. "This is why
we say the Chinese are using '60s tactics with '50s technology," one
defense official said.
- Chinese military writings also have discussed using fishing
boats and other small vessels as part of an invasion force against Taiwan.
- Meanwhile, the Pentagon said yesterday that a team of
four officials would travel to China later this week to assess how to ship
the damaged EP-3E surveillance aircraft out of Hainan island, where it
has been held since the April 1 collision with a Chinese F-8 jet.
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