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Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Taiwan to stage military drill

Taiwan's military remains on alert

By Francis Markus in Taipei

Taiwan's Defence Minister, Tang Fei, has announced military exercises to be held on a group of small islands between Taiwan and mainland China, but he says the drills will be on a smaller scale than previously.

Francis Markus: Sensitive time for military drill
Defence officials say the exercises on the Pescadores Islands, to be held in mid-May, will focus on repelling attacks by sea.

The announcement closely follows remarks by the Chinese Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, in Washington, in which he reiterated Beijing's threat to use force against Taiwan.

Mr Zhu said that China should learn from Abraham Lincoln, who used force in the American Civil War to reunite the South with the North.

Although Mr Tang said on Monday there was nothing new in Mr Zhu's remarks, some analysts here say the Chinese prime minister may have given Taiwan's military an opportunity to announce the drills at a time when they could gain maximum local support.

Local community unhappy about drills

Opposition to the exercises in the Pescadores has centred around complaints that they disrupt local fishermen's livelihoods.

[ image:  ]
Mr Tang said the effect on the local community was one reason why the drills were to be smaller than in previous years.

He also cited modern information technology as a factor in reducing the need for large-scale exercises.

The defence minister acknowledged that the exercises would come at a sensitive time, given that China's chief negotiator on Taiwan, Wang Daohan, is expected here later this year, but he said that military considerations could not be permanently subordinated to political ones.

As Taiwan prepares for presidential elections early next year, memories of China's missile tests before the island's last polls in 1996 are still in people's minds.

The challenge for Taiwan's defence establishment is to try to project an image of readiness without adding extra provocation.

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