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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

New tanks stimulate confidence

from CHINA NEWS, 18 August 1999

With military tensions with China at a three-year-high, Taiwan rolled out souped-up tanks yesterday that would play a major role in repelling any Chinese invasion-even though the vehicles are almost as old as the half-century conflict between the two sides.
Four M-41D tanks blasted away at steel targets, then ran obstacle courses through patches of water and up steep hillsides in a pall of white smoke at the Army Readiness Ordinance Center deep in the mountains of central Taiwan.
After the firing stopped and the smoke cleared, Lei Yuan-chiao, deputy army commander in chief, smiled broadly to give his verdict on the exercise.
"We can now be assured of the effectiveness of the upgrade," Lei told reporters.
M-113 armored personnel carriers produced at the ordinance center and various antitank rocket launchers also shot rounds during the brief but deafening display of firepower staged for a crowd that also included legislators and residents of the area around the sprawling complex of defense factories, about 200 kilometers south of Taipei.
Yesterday's carefully choreographed demonstration drew special attention because it comes at a time when an enraged Beijing has renewed military threats against Taiwan in anger over President Lee Teng-hui's recent affirmation of the island's statehood.
But the Taiwanese insisted they were not rattling any sabers. They said the timing of the tank drills-which had been in the works for months-was purely coincidental and that they had no inclination to provoke Beijing with undo comments about Taiwan's military readiness.
The military stages such live firing displays regularly to reinforce public confidence in Taiwan's ability to defend itself and maintain support for high defense budgets and the required two-year term of military service for all men.
A local noodle shop owner, Lin Tun, said he was impressed by the tanks but not overly worried about Beijing's threats.
"It's really good to know that our military is on the ball," Tun said. "But I don't think China will do anything. We're not scared of China."
China says Lee's July 9 statement that relations between the sides should be termed "state-to-state" is effectively a bold step toward formal independence, something China says will lead to war. Beijing has demanded that Taiwan repudiate Lee's remarks.
The Taiwanese exercises came right after China's military made its own high-profile display of force, parading missiles on trucks, armored personnel carriers and tanks through Beijing on Monday night to practice for an October 1 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
Taiwan says substantial numbers of its overhauled M-41D tanks will be assigned to armored units on the heavily fortified island groups of Kinmen and Matsu just off the Chinese coast. They are considered prime targets for any Chinese show of force.
Taiwan's military says flights by Chinese warplanes over the Taiwan Strait have become more frequent in recent weeks-including, for the first time, training flights by the Chinese air force's most sophisticated Sukhoi 27 jets-but insists it sees no indications that China is preparing military action.
The M-41D tanks-a modified version of old M-41 models-boast night vision viewfinders, laser sights, new diesel engines and domestically developed cannons that upgrade their performance to a level comparable to most newer models of the same class, said Chang Ke-su, an officer on the modification project.
So far, 50 of Taiwan's roughly 400 M-41s have undergone the overhaul, which costs about 20 million Taiwan dollars (U.S. US$621,000) per tank, far cheaper than the cost of purchasing new models.
Officers said the overhaul program was accelerated following threatening Chinese war games and the firing of missiles into waters near Taiwan in 1996, which marked the last major flaring of tensions between the sides that have been divided politically since a civil war 50 years ago.
The 25-ton M-41s entered service with the U.S. Army in 1950 -- but the aging tanks are still vital to guarding the shoreline and sinking landing vessels before they can make a beachhead, Lei said.
Several hundred M60A tanks bought from the United States over the past decade are charged with fighting any invading force that fights its way on to the island.

Copyright 1999 China News

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