Taipei - Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, allowed the first phase of the annual Hankuang (Chinese Glory) 24 exercise, a computer war game, to continue as scheduled, but delayed the second phase, the live-fire exercise, until Sept. 22-26.
The reasons, sources said, were fears that a live-fire exercise could derail recent historic negotiations with China to begin direct cross-strait air flights July 4. They have been sworn enemies since 1949, when Chinese Communist forces pushed embattled Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist) forces onto the island of Taiwan.
The computer simulation was held from June 22-27 at the underground maximum security Hengshan Command Headquarters, just north of Taipei.
The simulation began with a Chinese air and sea battle. The exercise includes an air assault on air bases, harbors, bridges, power stations and command-and-control hubs.
China's Second Artillery Corps has about 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan, and there are hopes that improved relations with China could result in the eventual dismantling of the missile units.
The exercise also included an amphibious landing and airborne assault by Chinese troops.
Taiwan's military adopted the Joint Theater Level Simulation (JTLS) system in 2004. The JTLS allows remote linking to various commands around Taiwan. Previously, the computer simulation was held exclusively at Hengshan.
Once again this year, retired U.S. Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, heads a U.S. military delegation to observe the exercise. Blair retired in May 2002 and has led the delegation since 2003 with Hankuang 19.
According to a self-imposed U.S. government rule, military general officers and deputy assistant-level government officials are not allowed to travel to Taiwan.
"The concern has been political in nature, with the belief that general officer visits would be construed as official relations," a former U.S. Pentagon official said. "When it became apparent in the late 1990s that China was embarked on an ambitious military buildup, the restrictions were relaxed a bit."
However, the rule has been broken in the past. According to the former Pentagon source, an unidentified acting deputy assistant secretary of defense and a reserve Navy one-star admiral visited Taiwan in 1998 and 1999. There also were Cabinet-level visits under the Clinton administration.
There have been calls to modify the rule to better facilitate communication between Taipei and Washington, but strained relations under former President Chen Shui-bian, who pushed for de jure independence, killed all discussion of the issue during the Bush Administration.