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China announces missile launch training

BEIJING, July 18 -- China announced Tuesday it will conduct guided missile launch training in the East China Sea this month and advised countries in the area to keep their vessels and aircraft away. A dispatch marked 'urgent' carried by the official Xinhua news agency said the People's Liberation Army will undergo 'training for launching a surface-to-surface missile into the open sea' from July 21- 28. 'Chinese naval vessels and airplanes will be operating on and over' the 10 nautical mile circular sea area, Xinhua said, with the central point 26 degrees 22 minutes north and 122 degrees 10 minutes east. To ensure the safety of passing vessels and aircraft, Beijing requested the 'governments of relevant countries and authorities of relevant regions to advise' ships and planes to refrain from entering the designated sea area and air space during the seven-day period. China provided no further details in making the announcement, considered certain to heighten anxiety among Asian neighbors, perenially jittery over China's insistence it needs a 3-million-strong military for defense. The announcement followed forecasts by diplomats and military analysts that Beijing would conduct a series of military maneuvers as a warning to Taiwan to curb its bid for greater international stature following President Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States last month. An exercise dubbed 'East Sea No. 5' was held June 30 off China's east coast province of Zhejiang June 30, some 400 kilometers (240 miles) north of the tense 220-kilometer-wide (132-mile) Taiwan Strait.

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International concerns over China's intentions have escalated since Japan accused Beijing last month of test-firing a new mobile inter- continental ballistic missile able to strike anywhere from London to the West Coast of the United States. The tests announced Tuesday conclude the day before the opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers conference and regional forum in Brunei, with peace and stability in the region a primary theme. China conducted naval exercises right before the 1988 and 1992 ASEAN meetings. ASEAN is now set to welcome Vietnam into the six-nation fold, and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen will be attending along with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. China's territorial claims over the Spratly Islands in the South and military muscle-flexing in the area have contributed to mounting unease. Washington is particularly apprehensive over China's potential exports of nuclear technology. China has dismissed as groundless a CIA report alleging it recently delivered components for missile systems to Iran and Pakistan and said it was complying with international pledges.

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