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Aug 22, 2007

China steps up military exercises

The Taipei Times reports thus:

Over the past six months, China has intensified its military exercises in the Taiwan Strait as a subtle threat to Taiwan in advance of next year's elections and plans for a referendum on UN membership, raising the prospects of heightened cross-strait military tensions through next spring, a leading Taiwan expert said in Washington on Monday.

"The next six months will be a critical period for cross-strait relations," Andrew Yang (楊念租), the secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, told a seminar on cross-strait relations sponsored by the Atlantic Council.

"For the past six months or so, the military in Taipei has witnessed `unusual military exercises being conducted' in the coastal regions facing Taiwan," he said....

The military exercises, Yang said, "send a signal to Taipei that Beijing is intensifying its preparations, their readiness to use force ... and their will to use force" if they deem Taiwan to be moving toward independence.

The "tendency toward escalation" over the next six to eight months "could make the Taiwan Strait a potential flashpoint for both sides," Yang said....

He said the exercises detected by the Ministry of National Defense have included an increasing number of air sorties to the middle line of the Taiwan Strait and beyond that line, as well as "naval exercises symbolizing efforts to facilitate the use of force."

They have also involved drills with live fire, "which [the Taiwan military] considers unusual compared to the past."

In the exercises "there is an implicit threat to use force, and certainly to take some significant step if the referendum passes," he said.

"If the PRC [People's Republic of China] were to move in that direction, by actually using or threatening to use serious force, that contains within it the potential for serious consequences not only for the region but for US-PRC relations as well," he said.

Romberg, who recently returned from China, said that many in Beijing consider the referendum as "a substitute for a declaration of independence," or a "referendum on independence in disguise" with important political consequences, even though most people in Taiwan do not view the initiative as such.

Not exactly good news considering rhetoric from at least Taiwan is sure to escalate as the election nears. Escalation of military moves is obviously not comforting, but I think China will find an excuse to dismiss the referendum at the end of the day.

I'm a little surprised some people in Beijing had such strong words about the referendum, but then again, that's not official policy yet. I don't think Beijing will be willing to make a public declaration that this UN referendum = declaration of independence, because it forces their hand.

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