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Along the coast of China’s two southernmost provinces, Beijing has conducted large-scale amphibious and naval exercises designed to practice attacking and sinking U.S. aircraft carriers and to rehearse an invasion of the island nation of Taiwan.

According to Al Santoli, national security advisor for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and editor of China Reform Monitor, which is published by the American Foreign Policy Council, the exercises – called “Liberation 2″ – were held in the Guangdong and Zheijiang provinces and simulated amphibious landings on Taiwan as well as attacks against American carriers.

Santoli, in a recent issue of CRM, said details of the exercises were published in the Hong Kong Sing Tai Jih Pao newspaper. He quoted Chinese officials as saying that preparations for the exercises, which coincided with parliamentary elections in Taipei, were personally inspected by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

CRM quoted a “top Beijing official” as saying that “as long as [China] can strike and sink U.S. aircraft carriers that come to Taiwan’s aid, there is no problem settling the issue” of forcing the reunification of both Chinas.

Any such attacks would include strikes using DF-31 road mobile ICBMs, the report said, which have a range of 8,000 miles. The missiles could be launched either from land or by submarine.

The drills are part of an ongoing effort by Beijing to expand its influence in the region. Besides practicing how to attack and sink U.S. aircraft carriers, Santoli said Chinese officials have implemented a southeasterly expansion of China’s airspace over Hainan Island, the site of major U.S.-Chinese tensions last spring.

On April 1, one of a pair of Chinese F-8 fighters shadowing a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II made contact with the prop-driven electronic surveillance plane, damaging it and forcing its crew to land on Hainan Island. The crew was released after 11 days, but U.S. officials said China virtually stripped sensitive onboard equipment that could not be destroyed by the crew prior to landing.

The airspace, Santoli said, “includes some of the airspace over the Zhongsha Islands and the Xisha Islands – an area rich in natural resources and which surrounding countries claim sovereignty. …” The move strengthens Chinese control over the area, he said.

Specifically, “China’s claim over the area is strongly contested by Vietnam,” Santoli said – a nation invaded by China in 1979. Washington has recently rebuilt its diplomatic relations with Hanoi, some 25 years after the U.S. pulled out of its 11-year war in South Vietnam.

“China has set up a number of ‘dangerous airspace’ areas in the [spaces] over the southern part of Hainan Island,” said Santoli, where Chinese forces “have conducted numerous training and tests of new weapons and technologies such as aerial tankers.”

He said some experts believe China’s policy of “moving south through the air” is “being pursued as part of their military modernization.”

“In addition, transit fees [being paid] by at least 30 commercial airlines that pass through the space will provide China with millions of dollars in annual revenue,” Santoli said.

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