Legislators yesterday called for a stronger military presence on Taiping Island (太平島) in the South China Sea following allegations that a Vietnamese military boat opened fire on Taiwanese coast guards stationed on the disputed island in March.
The legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee invited ministries to report on the current situation in the South China Sea amid growing tensions between Taiwan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines over sovereignty issues.
Quoting media reports, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said a Vietnamese military boat had opened fire on Coast Guard Administration (CGA) personnel stationed on Taiping Island, one of the disputed Spratly Islands (南沙群島).
However, the CGA did not return fire, he said, but added that its officers should have fired back to protect the territory.
The marine corps should be invited back to safeguard Taiwan’s interests, he said.
CGA personnel have been stationed on Taiping since the marines pulled out in 1999, but legislators have asked the government to deploy military personnel or expand defense capabilities there.
Coast Guard Administration Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺) said a Vietnamese military boat appeared to have fired a blank round toward a coast guard vessel on March 22, but the two sides did not have an engagement.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuo-yu (董國猷) said a representative to Vietnam had expressed the government’s concern and protested with Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but Hanoi denied that the incident took place.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said the number of Vietnamese vessels coming within 6km of Taiping Island was increasing. There were 42 intrusions in 2010, 106 last year and 41 in the first four months of this year.
Lin, who visited the island with two other KMT lawmakers on Monday, renewed his call for the deployment of US-made missiles on the island and called for the construction of a large harbor to make the island more accessible.
He said he would freeze the budget for an unspecified defense program until the Ministry of National Defense had submitted an assessment of the situation in the South China Sea.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said the ministry would work with the CGA to strengthen the island’s defenses.
The ministry also said it had formed a special airborne unit capable of scrambling to the contested island within hours.
The unit has been set up under a plan named “airborne fast response and maritime support,” which was unveiled at the meeting in the legislature, officials said.
No details of the unit, such as its size, were released to the public, but media reports said that if needed, it could arrive on Taiping on board a C-130 transport plane within four hours.
The CGA said that troops stationed on Taiping would be armed with mortars with a range of 6,100m, nearly double the range of mortars currently in use.
The Chinese-language United Evening News reported on Wednesday that the US had voiced opposition to Lin’s suggestion of deploying Stinger missiles on Taiping.
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) spokesperson Christopher Kavanagh clarified the report when he was asked to verify the comment by telephone later yesterday.
“The United States shares a number of national interests with the international community in the South China Sea. The US position remains clear. We support a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants to resolve their disputes without coercion,” Kavanagh said.