A Philippine military spokesman yesterday said alleged plans by the Taiwanese military to deploy surface-to-air missiles on Taiping Island (太平島) in the South China Sea could fuel tensions in the region and be seen as an act of aggression by other claimants to a series of disputed islets.
Calling the move “unsettling” and “uncalled for,” Philippine Defense Department spokesman Zosimo Paredes said how other countries in the region would react to what he saw as an “out of the ordinary” move by Taiwan remained to be seen.
Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) on Wednesday gave signs he supported a proposal by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to deploy the Air Force’s Antelope air defense system — a derivative of the indigenous Tien Chien I “Sky Sword” (天劍一, TC-1) air-to-air missile used on the CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighter — or the US-made M48A2 “Chaparral” on Taiping.
As the Chaparral is an aging system, the Antelope, developed by the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, is a likelier candidate. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Antelope, which carries four modified TC-1 missiles per unit, has a range of 9,000m and a maximum altitude of 3,000m.
Kao said the ministry would be amenable to such a deployment, provided it received a request from the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), which since 1999 has overseen Taiwan’s claims to Taiping.
Coast Guard Administration Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺) told the legislature last week that his agency and the ministry had launched a two-month combat readiness evaluation for Taiping earlier this month.
Wang said a decision on deploying additional personnel or acquiring advanced weaponry would be made following the evaluation.
At present, the CGA relies mostly on machine guns to defend the island, on which Taiwan completed construction of a 1,150m airstrip in 2008, sparking protest from some regional claimants.
In his question-and-answer session with Kao, Lin singled out the Philippines and Vietnam as the nation’s principal adversaries in the region, while not mentioning China.
Paredes, who said Manila was prepared to “defend to the hilt” islets it already occupied in the Spratly Islands (南沙群島), nevertheless attempted to play down the significance of the news.
“That’s their [Taiwan] own prerogative. Should they want to do that, nobody can stop them, but they should not encroach into other interests so that peace will prevail,” he said.
“If they are just to protect their own interests there is no problem, I don’t see any problem there,” he said, calling Taiwan “a friend” of the Philippines and asking Taipei to coordinate its moves with neighboring countries.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, the Philippines and Malaysia lay claim to all or parts of the Spratlys, which are believed to sit on important oil and natural gas reserves.
Reacting to news of the possible missile deployment, the US on Friday appealed for calm and called on all claimants to avoid sparking an arms buildup.
“We encourage all claimants to resolve their disputes through peaceful means, in accordance with international law and without resorting to the threat or use of force,” US Department of Defense spokesman George Little told reporters in Washington.