(CNSNews.com) - A senior US Navy officer began official talks with Beijing military representatives on Monday as a Chinese newspaper reported that Chinese armed forces had been placed on alert in several regions, including the coast opposite Taiwan.
Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of US forces in the Pacific, is holding talks with People's Liberation Army officers, discussing Taiwan among other issues, a spokesman for the admiral said in Beijing.
The visit was scheduled before China published a White Paper last Monday warning it would invade Taiwan if the island continued to postpone reunification talks.
The tough new line alarmed Taiwan and prompted a strong reaction from the Clinton administration and US congressmen, but China dismissed the American response as "crude interference."
The talks this week are following up a visit to the US last month by PLA's deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Xiong Guangkai. The dialogue is aimed at restoring relations frozen after NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during last year's Balkans war.
Blair will continue talks in Beijing on Tuesday, visit the Nanjing military region on Wednesday and wind up the visit on Thursday, his spokesman said.
The eastern Nanjing region would be the launching pad for any military operation aimed at Taiwan.
The Sun newspaper cited Chinese government sources on Monday as saying President Jiang Zemin had placed troops on alert in the Beijing, Nanjing and Jinan military regions, as well as China's eastern fleet.
The paper quoted Jiang as saying: "We want peace and not war, but we are not afraid of war" and telling troops to be prepared mentally, economically and militarily to counter independence moves by Taiwan.
Another media report on Sunday confirmed suspicions that the White Paper warning was timed to coincide with the closing stages of the Taiwanese presidential election campaign.
The United Daily News quoted a representative of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Mingqing, as saying the government "did try to avoid expressing any comment towards the Taiwan elections" but felt compelled to issue the document before the vote "in order to display its determination against Taiwan independence."
Three of the five contenders in the March 18th poll are opposed to Taiwanese reunification with the communist mainland on Beijing's conditions.
Chen Shui-bian, standing for the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party and running second in opinion polls, is considered the main target of the Chinese warnings.
He has had to reassure jittery voters that support for him would not result in policies that would present China with justification to invade.
But Chen's running partner, Annette Lu, hinted at the weekend that China's threat could backfire by encouraging voters to support candidates who stand up to Beijing.
"China should realize that it is not dealing with just a piece of their land, but with 23 million well-educated, democratically-minded people," she said.
During Taiwan's first democratic election, in 1996, the Chinese Navy held military exercises off Taiwan and fired missiles near the island in what was seen as a warning to voters not to back pro-independence candidates. The US responded by sending warships to the area.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) was established in 1949 after nationalists were routed by communist forces and fled across the Taiwan Straits to the island of Formosa.
Taiwan has been governed separately ever since, but China regards it as a renegade province whose eventual return to the fold is inevitable.
The US also recognizes this "One China" policy, but has been Taiwan's main military sponsor. Taiwan has firm supporters in Congress, but the administration opposes lawmakers' attempts to increase military aid to the island.