OT - Chinese Military "On Alert" Over Taiwan

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China military said on alert over Taiwan row

Updated 12:31 AM ET July 20, 1999

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING, July 20 (Reuters) - China has put its military on high alert amid a row with Taiwan over the estranged island's political future, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper said on Tuesday.

But the United States said it saw no signs China was mobilising the 2.5 million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) and suggested any military movements were routine.

"We do not have suggestions that there is, as of today, a military mobilisation going on," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

In countries like China with large militaries, "there are activities regularly," he told reporters in Washington. "I can say that there have not been any extraordinary developments."

Taiwan's military dismissed Hong Kong newspaper reports last week that the PLA had stepped up training drills.

China's state media was silent on Tuesday on what the military was up to.

But the English-language China Daily published a public opinion poll on its front page that showed 86.9 percent of 1,957 respondents in seven cities would back any government decision to invade Taiwan if the island declared independence.

The poll, conducted by the Social Survey Institute of China, showed 94.7 percent felt "disgust" at Taiwan's policy shift.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin told U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton on Sunday that Beijing had not ruled out the use of force against Taiwan in the latest crisis, sparked by Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui junking of the longstanding "One China" policy.

Wen Wei Po, Beijing's newspaper in the former British colony of Hong Kong, said the PLA had been put on high alert but did not say when.

It reported troop movements in China's southeast provinces facing Taiwan involving field units of the Nanjing, Jinan and Guangzhou military regions.

It quoted General Su Jing, deputy chief of staff of the Nanjing Military Region, as saying Lee was playing with fire and would burn himself.

The newspaper carried a front-page a photograph of soldiers carrying heavy equipment marching next to a column of armoured personnel carriers. It did not say when the picture was taken.

Last week, Wen Wei Po said China held a 12-hour "wartime mobilisation drill" involving more than 100 civilian vessels off Fujian province facing Taiwan.

Lee angered China by unilaterally redefining ties between Taipei and Beijing as "state-to-state" in a bid to break the wealthy, democratic island out of diplomatic isolation.

The policy of a single, indivisible China that includes Taiwan had been a mutually accepted formula that prevented war between the rivals and helped underpin East Asian security for decades.

China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland since the Communists won a civil war in 1949 and drove the defeated Nationalists into exile.

The United States has issued a clear warning to China, saying any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means would be of "grave concern" to Washington.

In 1996, the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan, where the PLA was conducting war games in the run-up to the island's first direct presidential elections.

The United States has been encouraging both sides to tone down the rhetoric and talk to each other.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Vienna on Monday he was disturbed by the rising tension and urged Taiwan and China to resume the search for a diplomatic solution to the issue of the island's political status.

-- Nabi Davidson (nabi7@yahoo.com), July 20, 1999

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