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Taiwan link to naval drills dismissed(03/18/04)

    BEIJING, Mar. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Chiese foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao dismissed any connection between the joint naval exercises held by China and France and Taiwan's election.

    At a press conference Tuesday, Liu praised the exercises as a further sign of strong ties between Beijing and Paris, coming after Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent high-profile trip to France.

    "These drills will further enhance the relationship between the two nations," Liu said.

    French and Chinese ships held joint naval exercises Tuesday, a cooperative effort hailed as the largest-ever military drills between China and a foreign nation.

    The exercises, held off the Chinese Yellow Sea port of Qingdao, involved two ships from each nation and included maneuvering, communications and helicopter exercises.

    Xinhua earlier quoted the commander of a Chinese guided missile destroyer, Capt. Ju Xinchun, as saying the exercises were the "most comprehensive military exercises between China and foreign countries so far."

    Taiwan authorities have complained that Tuesday's joint naval exercises were intended to intimidate the island just days before this weekend's election.

    In another development, Taiwan shares ended lower for a fourth session in a row Wednesday as retail and overseas investors dumped stocks ahead of the election Saturday, dealers said.

    The Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange finished 11.74 points, or 0.2 percent, lower at 6577.98 in dealings valued at NT$117.7 billion (US$3.5 billion).

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