China To Show Air Superiority
In Taiwan War Games

BEIJING (AFP) - China will use military drills this month to demonstrate its ability to dominate air space over Taiwan, an essential element in any invasion of the island, state media and analysts said Monday. Joint sea, land and air drills will take place this month at Dongshan Island, just 150 nautical miles away from Taiwan's Penghu Islands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed.
"This year, aside from missile brigades, tank brigades, marine brigades, warships and submarines, all advanced weapons will be used in the exercise," an article in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily said.
In previous exercises, the emphasis has been on crossing the Taiwan Strait by ship for amphibious landings backed by missile attacks.
"But in fact, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) realized in 1999 that the launching of an amphibious landing offensive on Taiwan would be hindered if mastery of the air and the sea were not gained," said the newspaper.
"That is why the PLA had decided to change its emphasis on this drill."
It said that instead "the PLA will likely put emphasis on the seizure of air dominance over Taiwan in the 2004 military Dongshan Island exercise".
Military experts cited in the paper said this implied an "active" and "offensive" military drill.
Independent analysts said the focus on air dominance was a message that China was now in a position to attack Taiwan, should it want to.
"The emphasis on air supremacy is central to any PLA offensive operations in the Taiwan Strait, but the Taiwan Air Force has traditionally held the upper hand in this area," said one analyst.
"But as the PLA Air Force has made rapid improvements in this area with significant acquisitions of Russian fighters and attendant weapons packages ... the air balance is now beginning to gradually swing in China's favour.
"This article clearly suggests that the Chinese will use the Dongshan exercise as a forum to show that it can now succeed in gaining air dominance against the Taiwanese, which is a major step in making its threats of the use of military force, including an invasion, more credible."
Last month, Taiwan said that its air force would practice emergency landings on a freeway for the first time in 25 years amid renewed tension with China.
The scenario of the drill is that Taiwan's airports may be destroyed should war break out with China, and that freeways may be used for emergency landings, Defense Minister Lee Jye said.
The People's Daily report did not reveal how many soldiers would take part in the exercises, but a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper recently said 18,000 troops would be involved.
More than 100,000 troops were involved in a similar drill in 2001.
Tension between Beijing and Taipei has been heightened since Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected this year, with China fearful his pro-independence moves are aimed at gaining formal independence.
Beijing has vowed to go to war with Taiwan in the event of it moving towards independence.
China considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification. The island has been separated since the end of a civil war in 1949.



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