Warning foreign ships and aircraft to stay out of the area, China on Saturday announced that it will conduct naval and air force exercises using live ammunition in the Taiwan Strait until March 20, only three days before Taiwan holds its first direct presidential election.
The report from the official New China News Agency came two days after China fired three unarmed medium-range ballistic missiles at target areas near Taiwan's two largest ports, Keelung and Kaohsiung. The Chinese military has said the missile tests will continue until Friday
The Chinese government also reported that it expelled two Taiwanese television journalists it said illegally strayed too close to the military exercise area in China's southern Fujian province.
"An investigation by the public security department shows that the two journalists entered Fujian province and illegally shot video of the military exercise on the coast," the New China News Agency said. The report claimed that the two journalists, from Taiwan's state television network, "confessed to stealing military secrets."
Chinese military officials have refused requests by foreign journalists to observe the military exercises. Air travelers to cities in Fujian province have reported that flight attendants have required passengers to close all window shades immediately before takeoffs and landings.
The People's Liberation Army has reportedly amassed 150,000 troops in the area. Travelers have reported seeing older Soviet-made MIG aircraft on the tarmac of the airport in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, but none of the new supersonic SU-27 squadron that is the pride of the Chinese air force.
One military analyst said China might attempt some low-pass flights over Taiwanese cities with the SU-27s to produce sonic booms as part of an intimidation campaign to dissuade voters from casting ballots for pro-independence candidates.
In Taiwan, President Lee Teng-hui said in a televised address that "force and threats will not obstruct our pursuit of democracy, freedom and dignity." Lee, the Nationalist Party leader who has enraged Chinese Communist leaders with his push for independent recognition of Taiwan in the United Nations, is heavily favored to win the March 23 presidential vote.
Despite its aggressive military actions and rhetoric, China has carefully announced the timing and location of each of its exercises to avoid scrambling Taiwan's powerful defense systems.
The live-ammunition exercises in the Taiwan Strait are to begin Tuesday in a 6,600-square-mile rectangle stretching from Xiamen in Fujian province to northern Guangdong province. The drills will be within sight of the Taiwanese-held island of Quemoy, near Xiamen.