For the first time in several years the military is holding its annual exercises away from the Taiwan Strait, according to an official army publication. National Defence Daily yesterday reported that the war games were being held in northeastern Liaoning province. The exercises involve a simulated invasion by a Beijing-based army against enemies in winter conditions, it said. Soldiers are being trained to set up makeshift camps and command centres, as well honing their skills with electronic positioning equipment. The airforce is also being trained to fight in difficult winter conditions, the report said. The navy has sent submarines to train in the icy northern waters. Medical teams are also engaged in the manoeuvres, according to the report. What has not been made clear is the duration of the exercises, but in the past they have lasted up to six months. While mainland and Hong Kong analysts agree that the war games are meant to boost the military's performance under adverse weather conditions, they also project a political message. Hong Kong-based military expert Ma Ding-shing said northeastern China was traditionally a focus of national defence strategies because of its closeness to Beijing. This year's exercises appeared to highlight Beijing's concerns about the threat of terrorism, Mr Ma said. 'The move comes at a time when the North Korea nuclear crisis is in the spotlight,' he added. But Shen Dingli, deputy director of the Centre for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University, argued it was unlikely the planning took into account the latest crisis on the Korean peninsula, which emerged just three months ago. He said the military usually prepared its annual exercises six months in advance. Professor Shen interpreted the early official release by the army publication as part of efforts to increase the military's transparency and establish mutual trust with the United States. Although the US probably would have known about the exercises from its spy satellites, he said the confirmation from the PLA would be seen as a goodwill gesture. Another Hong Kong-based observer, Lee Kwok-keung, said the exercises echoed President Jiang Zemin's call for the army to ensure 'readiness for victory' and that the military maintain its highest standards whatever the conditions.