Control Yuan member Lee Ping-nan (李炳南) and government officials involved in national security on Wednesday flew to Taiping Island (太平島), the largest island in the Spratly Islands (南沙群島).
Speaking by telephone, Lee, who initiated the trip, declined to identify the officials who accompanied him, but said the excursion by C-130 transport plane was part of an investigation into the government’s efforts to safeguard sovereignty in the South China Sea that he is working on with Control Yuan members Ger Yeong-kuang (葛永光) and Chou Yang-shan (周陽山).
The trio planned to forward suggestions on how the government should reaffirm the nation’s sovereignty over the Spratlys, the Paracel Islands (西沙群島), Macclesfield Bank (中沙群島) and the Pratas Islands (東沙群島), as well as their surrounding waters, seabeds and subsoil, Lee said.
“I would suggest that the government restore its military deployment on Taiping Island, where 120 Coast Guard Administration officers are stationed in addition to 30 air force and marine officers in charge of the weather radar station,” Lee said.
Amid rising tensions between China, the Philippines and Vietnam over their respective claims in the region, which is also claimed all or in part by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, lawmakers have suggested the government dispatch military forces. It has not done so, but has had the marines train coast guard personnel stationed on the island.
Half of the 120 coast guards on Taiping have completed training that makes them “equivalent to the marines in terms of combat skills,” Lee said, adding that the rest of the coast guard detachment would undergo the same training.
Lee said he would also suggest the government improve the runway, harbor facilities and infrastructure on Taiping to allow for smooth logistics support for the coast guards and for the possibility of opening the island to tourists.
In related news, following a seven-day research trip by a group of maritime law students and academics to Taiping last month, a group of 23 college students set off on Wednesday on a four-day excursion to the Pratas to learn about the islands’ ecosystem.
At a regularly scheduled Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference yesterday, Baushuan Ger (葛葆宣), deputy secretary-general of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that the ministry has not received any complaints from rival claimants about the research trips, which were organized by the Ministry of Education, the Coast Guard Administration, the Ministry of National Defense and Dongsha Atoll Marine National Park Headquarters.
The foreign ministry fully supported the trips because they could enhance the country’s claim to sovereignty over the region, Ger said.