HK Paper Says War Imminent -
US Military Sees No Signs

HONG KONG (Agence France Presse) - Military conflict in the Taiwan Strait could erupt at any moment, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper reported in front-page headlines Friday.
But with China's military preparations virtually impossible to verify, observers all face the same problem. The challenge is determining whether there is any truth behind the daily front page reports in Hong Kong newspapers or whether they,re part of China's psychological warfare after Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui demanded "special state-to-state relations" with the mainland.
There have been several reports of a military buildup on the Chinese coast facing Taiwan. But the U.S. Defense department said Thursday it had no information of any concentration in Fujian province.
The Wen Wei Po newspaper on Friday had a front-page pictures of a tank on a navy landing vessel and helicopters and ships taking part in drills. But there was no explanation of where they were.
The newspaper quoted Yan Zhao, a senior researcher at China's Academy of Military Science, as saying that tension in the Taiwan Strait was "more serious" now than in 1996 when China staged military drills off Taiwan after Lee made a visit to the United States.
"It will not be the same now, since he has hit the bottom line," Yan was quoted as saying. He warned that military conflict could erupt at any time as China was well-prepared.
"Our forces in sea, on land, and air have already made good preparations," he said.
Yan also said Beijing would not stop using force even if the United States was to intervene, referring to past history when Chinese and U.S. troops fought against each other in the Korean War.
China has kept up a propaganda barrage in recent weeks to press Lee to back down from his statement that ties with the mainland are on a "state-to-state" basis.
Hong Kong newspapers have also given prominent coverage of the China-Taiwan war of nerves.
The Hong Kong Economic Times said this week the Chinese authorities have deployed more fighters and bombers in the eastern coastal region, including 27 Soviet-built Su-27 fighters.
The South China Morning Post citing a Beijing source said China's People's Liberation Army was considering the invasion and temporary occupation of an outlying island held by Taipei.
Pro-China sources believed the daily media stories of the mainland's war readiness were part of the psychological war intended to "create panic" in Taiwan.
Taiwan's defense ministry has also made similar accusations.
China has repeatedly said it might use force to stop Taiwan attempting to make a formal split with the mainland, which has considered the nationalist island a renegade province since the two split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. ((c) 1999 Agence France Presse)