Taiwan Watches Tests Begin: China Fires Two Unarmed Missiles into Target Zones near Port Cities

Article excerpt

TAIPEI, Taiwan - China began firing missiles off Taiwan's northern and southern coasts early today in an escalating war of nerves to destabilize its island rival before presidential elections this month.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry said China fired two surface-to-surface missiles during the night while most people were asleep. The missiles did not have active warheads.

One landed 44 nautical miles from the southern port of Kaohsiung, the other about the same distance from the northern port of Keelung. Both missiles hit water within target zones declared by Beijing.

[In Washington, Clinton administration officials called the tests "reckless and provocative," but there was no indication the United States will retaliate against China for carrying out the tests.

[Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake met yesterday with Liu Huaqiu, a top Chinese official on foreign affairs and security matters.

[White House spokesman Michael McCurry said Mr. Lake and Mr. Liu will "spend a day away from Washington" today to discuss their governments' differences.]

The Chinese launch site was not known, but unconfirmed reports said the missiles were fired from mainland bases near China's southern coast.

The firings came 15 days before Taiwan's first direct presidential elections.

Beijing accuses President Lee Teng-hui, who is favored to win re-election, of pursuing policies designed to declare Taiwan independent of the mainland.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province and reserves the right to use force, if necessary, to retake it.

China yesterday confirmed that the missile firings, previously described as routine military exercises, are designed to have a political effect in Taiwan.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said the exercises are intended to stifle independence forces in Taiwan.

Mr. Shen also said China will never give in to U.S. protests over its policies toward Taiwan.

He said the tests will "be a good thing to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"The current tension across the Taiwan Strait has been entirely caused by the perverse acts of some leaders in Taiwan to preach an independent Taiwan," Mr. Shen said.

The missiles' target zones lie near Taiwan's busiest ports. The effect has been called a partial blockade of shipping lanes and air traffic to and from the island. …