Chinese missile moves near Taiwan worry U.S.
|By Bill Gertz
June 07, 2001
Washington -- China is mobilizing some of its short-range missiles near Taiwan as other military forces are engaged in the largest war games in five years, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The missile activity at two bases across the Taiwan Strait is raising concerns inside the Pentagon that China's military may be set for test missile firings at Taiwan - similar to 1996 missile flight tests that led to a U.S.-China confrontation.
According to officials with access to U.S. intelligence reports, a U.S. spy satellite photographed several CSS-6 missiles at a base in Fujian province that was used for training exercises in the past but is normally left unoccupied.
Two transporter-erector launchers loaded with CSS-6s were spotted in the open at the training base. Six others were in sheds and an unspecified number of other missiles were hidden under camouflage nearby, the officials said.
"The missile unit occupied a base that is only used for training," said one official. The exact location of the missile training base could not be confirmed. One official said it was located at Fuzhou, directly across the strait from Taipei.
China has built several missile bases in Fujian province over the past several years, including the two newest ones at Xianyou and Yongan. The regional command headquarters for the short-range missile forces is located at Leping.
U.S. intelligence agencies reported in March that a new base for CSS-7 short-range missiles was completed at Xianyou - about 135 miles across the Taiwan Strait from the island.
Additionally, part of a CSS-7 brigade recently left another base opposite Taiwan for a mobile deployment exercise, the officials said.
The missiles are among the more than 300 CSS-6s and CSS-7s, also known as M-9s and M-11s, that China has deployed opposite Taiwan in the past several years. Administration national security officials have said China plans to deploy up to 600 missiles at bases opposite Taiwan.
The Pentagon views the continuing, large-scale missile deployment as destabilizing. The weapons can attack all of Taiwan's military bases with little or no warning, according to a recent Defense Intelligence Agency assessment.
A Chinese government-owned newspaper in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po, reported earlier this week that the "large-scale" beach landing exercises centered on Dongshan island will involve 100,000 troops, along with naval and air forces.
The last time Chinese forces conducted a similar amphibious landing exercise was November 1995, the newspaper said.
As part of that exercise, Chinese missile forces fired several short-range missiles in provocative flight tests that hit waters near the northern and southern tips of Taiwan.
A respected nongovernment Hong Kong newspaper, Ming Pao, reported Tuesday that the exercise had begun with "tens of thousands" troops from several regions near Fujian province moving toward Dongshan island. It said the war games would continue for two weeks.
"It is pointed out that the main aim of the exercise will be to attack and occupy Taiwan's offshore islands and counterattack U.S. military intervention," the newspaper stated.
Commercial aircraft were routed around Dongshan, and Chinese marines had taken control of the ferry between the island and mainland.
One source told the newspaper that the exercise involved electronic warfare operations, and that the Chinese military for the first time was using reconnaissance satellites and satellite navigation systems.
The exercise reportedly kicked off Monday night with an airborne assault on Dongshan.
In reaction to the 1996 missile tests, the Pentagon dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan in a show of force. China reacted by building up its military capability to attack U.S. ships, including the purchase of two Russian Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers equipped with SSN-22 supersonic anti-ship missiles.
Until the recent missile activity, Pentagon spokesmen have downplayed a series of Chinese military exercises taking place along China's coasts.
The first exercises took place on Woody island in the South China Sea, where China has built an airstrip for projecting its power into strategic sea lanes. Several thousand Chinese marines, accompanied by several warships, stormed ashore on the island as part of maneuvers last week.
While the Woody island war games were under way, China's northern navy conducted a sudden dispersal exercise that is normally conducted before a military attack or for protecting ships in port from bad weather.
Then in what officials called "phase two" of regional war games, the Chinese began massing more than 200 amphibious warfare vehicles on Dongshan island.
The official Chinese military newspaper also reported this week that a Chinese bomber division practiced low-level bombing runs May 28 as part of another exercise.
Also, Wen Wei Po quoted an unidentified Chinese military source as saying the Dongshan exercise will employ "advanced fighter planes, warships, missiles and electronic-warfare equipment."
The source also told the government-owned newspaper that the war games are practice for testing new tactics and for "quickly launching and winding up a war." It also will help troops study "ways of applying new-type equipment and translating new type equipment into fighting capacity through real operations."
Some Pentagon officials believe the war games could be preparation for military action by Chinese forces against an outlying Taiwanese island, or as part of sabre-rattling designed to intimidate the Taipei government.
Sun Yuxi, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday in Beijing that the war games are routine and normal.