BEIJING, Sep 12 (Reuters) China is to hold a major air raid drill in Shanghai, the likely target of Taiwan missiles in the event of conflict, a sign the country's leadership still views war as a possibility with the island it claims as its own.
Saturday's drill will coincide with a rally in Taiwan's Kaohsiung city at which the ruling Democratic Progressive Party will try to mobilise 1 million people to demonstrate support for the island's frustrated bid for membership of the United Nations.
Many security analysts see the Taiwan Strait, the 180-km (110-mile) stretch of water between China and its tiny neighbour, as one of the most dangerous flashpoints in Asia.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since their split in 1949 after the Communists won the Chinese civil war. China sees Taiwan's planned referendum on its UN bid as a formal declaration of independence if passed.
Chinese academics have said China will be forced to react, possibly militarily, even though the UN bid is doomed in the absence of diplomat support. Taiwan is recognised by only 24 countries, compared to 170 for China.
General Guo Boxiong, a vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, has said the People's Liberation Army has ''the determination, the capability and (made) the preparations to safeguard the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity'' and thwart Taiwan independence.
But China, which will host the Olympics next August, wants to avoid a conflict and has turned to the United States to try to rein in pro-independence leaders of Taiwan.
Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 under a ''one China'' policy but remains the island's main arms supplier and trading partner.
Chen Yunlin, minister of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, concluded a two-day visit to Europe yesterday to rally international support against plans for a referendum on UN membership next March.
The Shanghai drill will begin at 0730 ist on Saturday and last 23 minutes, covering all five districts of the city. But pedestrians will not be required to take cover and cars will not be stopped.
''It's to familiarise people with the sound of sirens,'' an official with Shanghai's civil defence office surnamed Wang said by telephone.
The civil defence office and the Taiwan Affairs Office declined to say whether the drills were in preparation for a war.
Only sections of Shanghai took part in a similar drill on May 20, 2004, which coincided with the inauguration of Taiwan's pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian.
In September 2004, then Taiwan Premier You Si-kun angered China when he threatened to fire missiles at Shanghai if the PLA attacked the island.
REUTERS CS KP0855