Chinese exercise targets Taiwan

On 26 January 1999, the Washington Times published the following article by its reporter Bill Gertz :

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Chinese exercise targets Taiwan

Washington, January 26, 1999

dragon China's army conducted a military exercise last month with simulated missile firings against Taiwan and also for the first time conducted mock attacks on U.S. troops in the region, according to Pentagon intelligence officials.

The exercise began in late November and ended in early December as road-mobile CSS-5 medium-range missiles maneuvered along China's coast, said officials familiar with a Dec. 2 Defense Intelligence Agency report on the exercise.

Disclosure of the Chinese exercise comes as officials in the Clinton administration said efforts are under way to soften the conclusions of a congressionally mandated report on missile defenses and missile threats in Asia, including new details on the rapidly growing Chinese missile arsenal.

According to sensitive intelligence gathered by U.S. satellites, aircraft and ships that monitored the Chinese exercise, People's Liberation Army units, including those equipped with intermediate-range CSS-5s and silo-housed CSS-2 missile units practiced firing missiles at Taiwan.

Intelligence information also indicated that the U.S. Army troops based in South Korea, and Marine Corps troops on the Japanese island of Okinawa and mainland Japan were targeted with strikes. "They were doing mock missile attacks on our troops," said one official.

White House spokesman David Leavy said he could not comment on intelligence matters. A senior administration official confirmed that the missiles were CSS-2s, first deployed in 1971, and CSS-5s, first fielded in the 1980s. Both weapons had "never been pointed our way before," the senior official said. "The important point is these are not new missiles." The official did not address the threat the Chinese missiles posed to the 37,000 troops based in South Korea, and 47,000 troops in Japan, including about 25,000 Marines on Okinawa.

The intelligence report also raises questions about the recent statement of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who announced during the June summit in Beijing that he and President Clinton agreed "we will not target each other with the strategic nuclear arms under our control."

The Chinese leader told reporters June 27 that the detargeting "shows the whole world that China and the U.S. are cooperative partners instead of adversaries." Pentagon officials said, however, the simulated attacks are a sign China is prepared to go to war with the United States over the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province and not an independent nation.

The vulnerability of U.S. troops in Asia to missile attacks is a sensitive issue. North Korea has deployed medium-range Nodong missiles that also can hit troops in both Korea and Japan, although the Pentagon has been reluctant to acknowledge the threat.

During the recent exercise, the Chinese mobile missiles were observed erected on truck launchers, but none was actually fired, said officials who declined to be named. One military official said the exercises also showed China's growing capability to counter U.S. laser-guided bombs, using what the Pentagon calls "obscurance." The masking involves spraying clouds of small particles around the missiles that cause laser tracking devices to bounce off their intended targets and fool adversaries guiding the bombs into believing the weapons are on target.

The CSS-2 was the only intermediate-range missile ever exported. China sold a battery of the missiles to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. According to an earlier Pentagon intelligence report, China is engaged in a major program to upgrade its 40 CSS-2s with newer and more capable CSS-5s, which come in two versions. Liquid-fueled CSS-2s, with ranges of about 1,922 miles, are being replaced in some regions by solid-propellent CSS-5s that have a maximum range of 1,333 miles, the 1996 report said.

During the Taiwan straits crisis of March 1996, China fired short-range M-9 test missiles north and south of the island in what U.S. officials said at the time was an attempt to intimidate Taiwan shortly before its first presidential elections. Those exercises led the Pentagon to deploy two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near the island.

Regarding the report due to reach Congress Jan. 1, the Pentagon has been held up from sending the report to the House Armed Services Committee because of disagreements with its conclusions. The senior official said the delay is due to "normal interagency discussion about an important national security issue" and that it will be sent to Congress "in a timely manner."

The report to Congress examines the possible components for regional missile defenses in Asia that would have the capability of protecting key regional allies from missile attack. It was mandated by the fiscal 1999 defense authorization bill and will include descriptions of U.S. missile defenses that could be transferred to key allies in Asia for "self-defense against limited ballistic missile attacks," according to the legislation requiring it.

According to officials familiar with the draft report, the Pentagon study shows that China is engaged in a major strategic missile buildup of several types of weapons that political officials are reluctant to publicize for fear of upsetting the Chinese government. China's government is opposed to deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Asia because they could counter Chinese missiles.

The White House and State Department's East Asia bureau are said to be seeking to water down some of the harsh conclusions of the report, while the Pentagon and CIA want it to present unvarnished views of the Chinese missile threat, according to officials close to the debate.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the China missile report is being worked on and could be released later this week or early next week, or "perhaps later."

Richard Fisher, a China specialist at the Heritage Foundation, noted that the Chinese may not view the June detargeting pledge to include shorter-range nuclear missiles, only long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. But Mr. Fisher said the targeting of U.S. forces in the recent exercise "highlights the most important aspect of any future Chinese military threat to the region." "Chinese doctrine puts special emphasis on missile forces -- concealing mobile forces for obtaining surprise, and using a wide variety of current and future nuclear and nonnuclear warheads," he said.

The exercise also highlights the need to build regional missile defense for American forces in Asia and to help protect allies, he said.

Officially, the Pentagon said it does not know of the threatening missile-targeting activities. Mr. Bacon said he would not comment on any specific intelligence report, "but I can tell you we are not aware of a simulated attack against U.S. troops in Asia during a missile exercise."

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