A plan by Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers to visit Taiwan's outlying islands to clarify the country's jurisdiction over them could inflame tensions with neighboring countries, including China, the head of the Coast Guard Administration said yesterday.
The lawmakers said that the party intends to use the trips to clarify Taiwan's territory and to end disputes over the jurisdiction of some of the islands.
The proposal, however, aroused concern from many officials, who suggested that the tour be limited to Taiwan proper to avoid provoking tensions with Taiwan's neighbors, many of which also claim jurisdiction over the islands, such as those in the South China Sea.
"I consider it more appropriate to limit the tour to Taiwan itself. It would be too sensitive to claim Taiwan's control over the offshore islands because the situation is rather complicated," said Wang Chun (王郡), director of the Coast Guard Administration.
Wang made the statements while responding to TSU lawmaker Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘), who asked if the director had any suggestions about the lawmakers' trip plans.
To claim jurisdiction over Kinmen, Matsu, the Pratas Islands (東沙群島), the Spratly Islands (南沙群島) and the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) would trigger unnecessary tension with Taiwan's neighbors, Wang said.
The Pratas Islands are located 440km southwest of Kaohsiung and 260km south of China's Guangdong Province. The Spratly Islands are located in the southern part of the South China Sea, and the eight uninhabited Diaoyutai Islands are located 220km northeast of Taiwan.
Wang told the Taipei Times after the meeting that although there seems to be no controversy over the jurisdiction of Kinmen, Matsu and the Pratas Islands, he was worried that the legislators' visit would trigger conflict with China because there is disagreement on who has jurisdiction over the surrounding ocean.
He said under the United Nations Law of the Sea, the economic maritime space of any country extends 200 nautical miles (370km) from a country's coast.
The Taiwan Strait is only 200km wide, making a clear delineation between China and Taiwan difficult, Wang said.
He said Taiwan and China had reached a tacit agreement that divided the Strait evenly between the two.
In addition, legislators would certainly trigger complaints if they tried to lay claim over the Spratly and Diaoyutai Islands, a dispute over which has been raging for decades, the director said.
Besides Taiwan, the Philippines, China and Indonesia have laid claim to the Spratly Islands, he said.
Arguments also have been going on between Taiwan, China and Japan since 1971 over who owns the Diaoyutai Islands.
Wang told the Taipei Times that he wouldn't endorse the initiative, painting the move as "unnecessary" and a risk to Taiwan's relations with its neighbors.
"We already have troops stationed on the Spratly and the Pratas Islands, which implicitly indicates Taiwan's jurisdiction over them. Why provoke unnecessary tension?" he said.
Chen, however, insisted that the party will proceed with the plan because the government has claimed control over all of the islands.