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China-Taiwan militaries take different tack

Chinese news stand
China's state media was filled with criticism about Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's recent remarks that China and Taiwan were two countries.  

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Political posturing across the Taiwan Strait has taken another twist, with Taiwan canceling naval exercises just as China is hardening its aggressive military stance toward the island.

Amid rising tensions with China, Taiwan's military canceled a submarine-hunting exercise scheduled for next week, a military spokesman said Wednesday.

Although the military would not say whether the decision was directly related to the recent friction with China, the military spokesman said that Taiwan called off the drills to avoid creating new "misunderstandings."

"It was a routine drill, but we were afraid that the public and the media would read too much into it," said the spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

But as Taiwan attempted to downplay the war of words sparked by President Chen Shui-bian calling for a referendum on independence, China was hardening its stance, enhancing its summer exercises.

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"The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has conducted annual coastal maneuvers from April to October for more than a decade," an Asian military attaché told CNN.

"It has made some modifications to the exercise routines in response to Chen's recent remarks -- and the purpose is psychological warfare."

He added examples included more emphasis on invasion of beaches and islands as well as staging naval blockades; deployment of more recently imported jet fighters and submarines; and deployment of more reservists, particularly in the "front-line" Fujian province.

However, according to foreign military attaches based in Beijing, there are no indications the PLA are about to stage new war games, such as missile drills.

Comments 'oversimplified'

Chen has said comments he made over the weekend describing the island as a country on equal footing with China and calling for a referendum on independence had been "oversimplified."

On Saturday Chen said that such a referendum was "a basic human right" as, in reality, there was "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait.

His comments sparked a furious reaction from Beijing, which has repeatedly threatened to use force if Taiwan made any moves towards formal independence.

On Monday, officials warned that Chen's comments showed he was trying to split China, and said that formally declaring independence would "bring Taiwan into disaster."

Taiwan and mainland China split in 1949 following the communist takeover on the mainland, but Beijing insists the island is part of "One China" and is merely a renegade province.

Media campaign

The Chinese leadership has since embarked on a campaign in the official media and through interviews with pro-Beijing figures overseas to put pressure on Chen and his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

While the official media had kept quiet on coastal exercises that begun last April, it was expected selected maneuvers would be given prominent treatment in the press as part of an anti-Taipei campaign.

The official China News Service on Wednesday ran several pictures of different army and naval units conducting exercises, including amphibious troops taking over beaches.

Chen said his party was committed to defending Taiwan's democracy and freedom
Chen said his party was committed to defending Taiwan's democracy and freedom  

Also on Wednesday, most papers in Beijing ran a joint commentary by the Xinhua News Agency and the People's Daily denouncing Chen's separatist moves.

The commentary said Chen had "bound the future and safety of 23 million Taiwan people together with the 'Taiwan independence' powder keg."

The commentary, however, did not mention specific retaliatory measures.

Chinese television and the print media have also run numerous interviews with anti-separatist public figures and scholars in Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and the U.S.

U.S. conflict

A Chinese source familiar with Beijing's Taiwan policy said President Jiang Zemin would not order any tough retaliatory actions unless Chen were to say or do something even more inflammatory.

"Jiang is putting a lot of store by his summit with [U.S. President George W.] Bush in October," the source said.

"Beijing is satisfied the U.S. was not behind Chen's separatist remarks last Saturday. Jiang will bring up this latest example of 'trouble-making' by Chen to urge the U.S. to rein in the pro-independence movement on the island."

The source added Beijing would try to drive a wedge between Washington and Taipei by playing up the fact that Chen's remarks could result in the U.S. being dragged into a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

-- CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam contributed to this report




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