Two Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers and one Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker yesterday visited Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) to observe a live-fire drill held by the Coast Guard Administration.
The island, the largest of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), is manned by about 120 coast guard personnel, who have received training similar to that of marines. Taiwan withdrew its marines in 2000 to reduce tensions in the region.
KMT legislators Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) and Chen Cheng-hsiang (陳鎮湘) held a press conference at 6pm to report what they have observed of its beefed-up defenses.
The lawmakers’ inspection was arranged to review the implementation of the resolution adopted by the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee on May 3, which demanded that the government deploy 40mm anti-aircraft guns and 120mm mortars on the island to help reinforce its defenses, Lin said.
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) also joined the trip, which was led by Lin.
The annual live-fire drill was originally scheduled for last month, but was postponed to this week so the lawmakers could watch the drill, which simulated a counter-amphibious landing campaign on the island and made use of 81mm mortars, 40mm machine guns, 20mm cannons and T-75 guns.
Although the new weapons, shipped to the island on Aug. 10, were not incorporated in the drill, the installation of the 40mm anti-aircraft guns has been completed and land preparation for installation of 120mm mortars was progressing, Lin said.
Lin said some of the coast guard personnel returned to Taiwan to receive training on how to operate the new weapons, while the Ministry of National Defense also dispatched military officers to offer training on the island, Lin said.
“That said, if needed, the new weapons can be used for defense any time soon,” Lin said.
Lin said the new weapons would extend defense of restricted waters in the South China Sea to 6,000m.
At a time when US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Asia pushing for Asian countries to agree on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, Lin said the US has to recognize that “a code of conduct without the participation of the Republic of China [ROC] will not be a workable solution” because the largest of the Spratlys is controlled by the ROC.
Lin brought back six coconuts from Itu Aba to give to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and five other government officials to “thank them for efforts to enhance the defense.”
According to Wang Kuo-jan (王國然), director-general on home assignment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, the ministry said that Vietnam, via a statement of Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi published by the state-owned Vietnam News Agency, has protested against the live-fire drill and the ministry “expected” more protest “any time” from Hanoi.
Vietnam, like Taiwan and China, claims sovereignty over all of the islands in the region, which are also partially claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
“We have been paying close attention to reactions from [other claimants.] Vietnam has always raised a protest, but since 1946, Taiping Island has been our territory,” Wang said.
Wang said the government would not stand for nonsense from any country over the actions taken by officials, garrisons and lawmakers to assert the nation’s sovereignty over the island.
“We will brook no interference from anyone over the exertion of sovereignty over Taiping Island,” Wang said.
The island has been governed by the ROC since the nation’s military took control over various South China Sea islands in 1946 after the end of World War II, Wang said.
Through the effective administration of Itu Aba over the past 60 years, the government “has shown perseverance to safeguard our sovereignty in the South China Sea region,” foreign ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) added.