Thu, Jul 21, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Lawmakers fly to Itu Aba, stress its island status

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff writer, with CNA

A flotilla of five fishing boats yesterday depart from Pingtung County’s Sinyuan Township for Itu Aba (Taiping Island) to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty over the island.

Photo: CNA

Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) yesterday proved to be a popular destination, with a group of lawmakers making a flying visit, while a small flotilla of Taiwanese fishing boats set sail for the largest feature in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), all aiming to press the nation’s sovereignty claim as well as highlight its “island” status.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), co-convener of the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, initiated the lawmakers’ trip. He was joined by three KMT lawmakers and four from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

After the group toured a newly built port and other infrastructure and watched 40mm guns being fired during a training exercise, Chiang said that there is no denying that Itu Aba is an island.

He also voiced his gratitude to the Coast Guard Administration personnel stationed on the island.

“It is clear that Taiping Island is unlike the ‘rocks’ nearby and it is definitely not a rock that the tribunal said it is,” Chiang said, referring to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and its ruling that all of the Spratlys are rocks.

Construction work on Itu Aba over the years has made it a place that is able to sustain long-term habitation, he said.

“I have just had locally produced coconut water, and there is fresh water and even solar energy on the island,” he said. “The infrastructure here is more developed than in many places.”

DPP Legislator Wang Ding-yu (王定宇) said there are wells, solar-power systems, a new port, plants and trees indigenous to the island.

“There are also things left behind by Japanese forces during World War II,” Wang said. “Not only is sovereignty over Taiping Island indisputable, the fact that it is an island is unquestionable.”

The security detail on the island was normal, he said, adding that he hoped the government could forever safeguard the territory.

DPP Legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) said he had used his mobile phone to make a video of a female coast guard member stationed on Taiping to give to her family in Tainan.

The woman, surnamed Liu (劉), said in the video that she has been doing well on the island and looked after by her superiors.

“I hope that I could continue working in this unit to serve [the nation],” she said.

In Taipei, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said the office had no comment on the lawmakers’ trip, adding that the office would respect the Ministry of National Defense’s arrangements concerning Itu Aba.

In related news, five fishing boats departed from Pingtung County’s Sinyuan Township (新園) at about noon, with 20 fishermen aboard the vessels, which were draped with Republic of China flags and banners bearing the words “safeguard fishing rights in the South China Sea,” and “protect ancestral assets.”

Fishing boat owner Cheng Chun-chung (鄭春忠), who organized the trip, said that he had been warned on Tuesday by a fishery official that he risked having his boat license revoked if he sailed to Itu Abu because his license is only valid for trips to Hong Kong and China.

He told reporters that he was willing to take the risk.

The flotilla was seen off by a small crowd of onlookers who shouted their support and set off firecrackers as the boats departed.

The fishermen said that their group is scheduled to arrive at Itu Aba in five to six days.

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