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China launches massive war games

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

The New Year drills are considered unusual
The New Year drills are considered unusual

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- The People's Liberation Army has engaged in massive war games to demonstrate Beijing's ability to handle what the leadership has called "fast-changing and treacherous global conditions."

Official media on Tuesday reported maneuvers involving infantry, air and naval forces had taken place in the first week of the calendar New Year in undisclosed locations in northern, southern and coastal China.

While the nature and makes of the weapons were not revealed, the official China News Service (CNS) reported that more sophisticated hardware was used, and in tougher training circumstances.

An air office officer told CNS that the new jet fighters were being tested "at a higher degree [of difficulty]" and that more efficiency was achieved in the just-ended training session.

Naval exercises involved maneuvers in cold temperatures and rough seas relatively far from the Chinese coast.

The New Year drills are considered unusual because the PLA usually waits until spring before holding large-scale exercises.

A source close to the military establishment said the war games had to do with recent remarks by President Jiang Zemin and new Communist Party chief Hu Jintao about the need to be prepared for crises precipitated by unexpected developments overseas and inside the country.

"The PLA brass is eager to flex Chinese military muscle given uncertain developments on the Iraqi and North Korean fronts," the source said.

"While the new Hu Jintao leadership will stick with the Jiang policy of keeping a low diplomatic profile, Beijing wants to show Chinese and the international community it has the wherewithal to handle unexpected global events."

Diplomatic analysts think the PLA's show of force is also a way of telling Chinese that the new leadership has the means of defusing domestic incidents such as large-scale demonstrations by jobless workers.

In the past fortnight, various law-enforcement agencies have issued circulars asking cities nationwide to be on guard against violent, quasi-terrorist acts such as bombing, larceny and criminal food poisoning.

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