Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Chen travels to the disputed Pratas Islands

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A bus stop cuts a lonely figure against the landscape of Dongsha Island. Although the sign identifies it as a Kaohsiung City bus stop, and the official address is part of Kaohsiung's Chichin district, Dongsha Island lies in the South China Sea, about 444km southwest of the city, and is part of the Pratas Islands.

PHOTO: SU YUNG-YAO, TAIPEI TIMES

China's recent activities regarding the dispute over territory and resources in oceans in Asia, from the East China Sea to the South China Sea have endangered regional security among Asian states, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said yesterday, as he visited the disputed Pratas Islands, also called the Dongsha Islands (東沙島).

Taiwan will adopt peaceful means to negotiate with China over maritime issues in a bid to avoid possible armed conflict or war, Chen said.

Escorted by the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), Chen yesterday inspected the main island in the chain, Dongsha Island, which is at the center of a dispute over territory and natural resources with nearby countries, including China. It was Chen's second time visiting the remote islets -- which are located to the southwest of Taiwan -- as the nation's leader. In December, 2000, he made his first inspection tour of the Pratas Islands.

Chen yesterday prayed at a local temple and planted trees on the island, saying that both national security and ecological preservation can be ensured by appropriate management of the Pratas Islands.

Chen said that Taiwan's national security had been threatened by an invasion of Chinese fishing boats and "oil exploration" vessels. In May, coast guard ships expelled Chinese research vessels twice within 20 days.

"With its recent rise in both economic power and military forces, China's intention to expand its oceanic territories and natural resources from the East China Sea to the South China Sea has become more obvious and caused regional tension among neighboring countries. This scenario deserves to be seriously taken into account," Chen said.

Chen said that such dispute is not unique to Taiwan, and that Taiwan will follow international law and codes of conduct to resolve problems like other oceanic countries.

"We will take peaceful means to negotiate with China on oceanic issues in a bid to avoid possible armed `intervention' or war," Chen said.

According to the CGA's information, fishing boats that invade the waters of the Pratas Islands are mostly from China's Hainan Island, Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. The ecological system in the area had become more fragile because of inappropriate activities carried out by Chinese fishing boats, such as using explosives and poison for fishing.

According to Chen, using peaceful means to resolve disputes over sovereignty and resources illustrates the government's responsibility to ensure sustainable development in the region.

Chen yesterday stressed the importance of preserving the natural resources, including fishing grounds and coral reefs, of the Pratas Islands.

Chen said he would like to promote the establishment of an oceanic national park at the Pratas Islands, turning the place to an international research center for ecological studies on tropical oceanic creatures and plants.

Taiwanese scientists have observed what they call an ecological catastrophe in the area, which could be attributed to inappropriate activities involving fishermen from neighboring countries. Used batteries dumped in the area have caused serious environmental pollution in waters. A scientific survey by the Kaohsiung-based National Sun Yat-sen University suggests that the number of types of coral in the area has dropped sharply from 137 in 1998 to 63 now.

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