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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China bares fangs at Taiwan

It is China's biggest threat to Taiwan in recent months

Beijing has announced that it has held military exercises, involving warships and thousands of soldiers, on the mainland opposite Taiwan.

Chinese officials say the exercises are a warning to Taiwan not to pursue what Beijing sees as steps towards formal independence.

Correspondents say that the exercises are the most threatening sign to Taiwan since its first democratically-elected president, Lee Teng-hui, called for relations between Taiwan and China to be conducted on a state-to-state basis.

But Taiwan's military played down the threat, saying the activities were routine and did not cause concern.

'Mock invasion'

Deputy Chairman of China's Central Military Commission, Zhang Wannian, said the combined air, ground and naval landing exercises were a display of China's determination to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

[ image: Taiwan's Lee Teng-hui: a thorn in Beijing's side]
Taiwan's Lee Teng-hui: a thorn in Beijing's side
The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, said the exercises - reported to have taken place in the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong - were a mock invasion.

But Taiwanese and American officials were quoted as saying they had not seen any unusual Chinese military activity.

Western countries, including the United States, have urged China to show restraint but Beijing rejected any "foreign interference".

Taiwan has been ruled separately since a 1949 civil war, though both sides say they plan one day to reunite.

Beijing's communist government has threatened to use force to stop the island from declaring formal independence.

China-US relations

Reports of the exercises come just before Chinese President Jiang Zemin and US President Bill Clinton are to meet in Auckland on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific summit.

It will be their first contact since China broke off talks on a number of issues after the Nato bombing of its embassy in Yugoslavia, which Nato said was accidental, in May.

Hong Kong newspapers have reported that Mr Jiang plans to demand the President Clinton put pressure on Taiwan to backtrack on its claim to recognition, and to threaten military action if he fails to do so.

Taiwanese President Lee goaded Beijing on Thursday by declaring at a meeting of his political party that China was not able to launch an attack because of its financial weakness.

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