Mon, Jan 16, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Airstrip on Ita Aba is a necessity for Taiwan

By Song Yann-huei 宋燕輝

Having read the article "Building an airport on Ita Aba [Taiping Island, 太平島] is inappropriate" in the Dec. 29 edition of the Chinese-language Liberty Times, the sister paper of the Taipei Times, I feel obliged to share my own take on the topic.

Chiang Huang-chih (姜皇池), the article's contributor and an associate professor in the College of Law at National Taiwan University, believes that if the government intends to declare sovereignty over Ita Aba by building a landing strip on the island, the results will be limited from the perspective of international law. Chiang adds that the government's stance on the South China Sea issue is already clear.

However, whether a nation's military aircraft can land or take off in a certain place is closely related to the exercise of sovereignty. That is why, for example, the Indonesian government refused permission for Taiwanese military aircraft carrying relief to tsunami-hit regions to land on its territory.

Although there are already some Coast Guard troops stationed on Ita Aba, the government seems to be taking a passive and conservative approach to protecting Taiwan's territorial waters. If Taiwanese military aircraft were able to take off and land on Ita Aba, Taiwan's defensive capabilities in the region would be vastly improved.

Although some believe that it is China that has prevented Taiwan from participating in a dialogue directed at maintaining security in the South China Sea, the government has also failed to assert itself on the issue. In other words, the government should have made a unilateral decision to build a runway on Ita Aba a long time ago.

Chiang also expresses concern that:"once an airport is constructed on Ita Aba, it will seriously damage the entire ecosystem of the island as well as that of surrounding areas. If that happens, the international academic community will attack Taiwan and in the end the international community as a whole will show greater resentment toward the nation."

I believe that Chiang is unduly concerned about the matter. First, the government is only planning to build a 1.15km-long landing strip -- not an airport. Furthermore, such an act is not unprecedented: China built a runway on Woody Island (永興島), one of the Paracel Islands (西沙群島), while the Philippines also created a landing strip on Thitu Island (中業島) and Malaysia built one on Swallow Reef (彈丸礁) in the Spratly Islands (南沙群島). There is no indication so far that the ecosystems or marine resources of these islands have been seriously damaged. Last year, Vietnam was also planning to build a runway in the region, but gave up on the idea in the end because of opposition from China.

An airstrip on Ita Aba would allow troops stationed there to return to Taiwan to receive medical treatment in emergencies, and to return home whenever they have urgent family matters to deal with. Furthermore, the troops would be better able to render assistance to Taiwanese ships and the fishing boats of other nations. As can be seen from the fact that the nation's troops on Ita Aba once had to turn to the Philippines for medical assistance, an airstrip really is a necessity.

In short, the government should adopt a whole new strategy in dealing with the matter of constructing a landing strip on Ita Aba. Since the government has decided to go ahead with the project, it should also carefully study what measures it can take in the future to better manage, explore and utilize marine resources in the South China Sea.

This story has been viewed 3068 times.
TOP top