Fri, Jan 06, 2006 - Page 2 News List

MND admits strategic value of Spratly airstrip

ABOUT-FACE Although MND officials had previously claimed that the planned airstrip would be used only for humanitarian purposes, they now say it has other uses

CNA , TAIPEI

Deputy Minister of National Defense Tsai Ming-hsien (蔡明憲) admitted yesterday that there are strategic considerations behind the government's plan to build an airstrip on one of the biggest islets in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

During a meeting of the Legislative Yuan's National Defense Committee, Tsai told lawmakers that it would take only five to 10 minutes for China's missiles and military aircraft to fly across the 200km Taiwan Strait to reach Taiwan.

Against this backdrop, it will be very helpful if Taiwan can expand its strategic depth and improve its early warning capability by setting up a base in the South China Sea, which is an international thoroughfare for airplanes and ships, Tsai said.

The Spratly Islands, which consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds and oil deposits, are claimed either entirely or partially by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Taiwan now occupies Taiping Island (太平島). China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have also stationed small numbers of military forces on some other islands.

Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials had previously emphasized that the airstrip to be located on Taiping Island is not intended for military use but instead for humanitarian purposes, such as emergency rescue efforts by the Coast Guard of sick or injured sailors or fishermen.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Tuesday rejected Vietnam's demand that it cease building airstrips on the disputed Spratly archipelago.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung warned last Thursday that construction on Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba (Malay for "What's that?"), would violate Vietnamese sovereignty and create a "negative impact" on peace, stability and regional cooperation.

In response, MOFA Spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said that the island is part of Taiwan's territory and that the defense ministry's building of a landing strip on the island is therefore in accordance with the nation's sovereignty, adding that it is based on the need for coastal security as well as safeguarding the country's territory.

Also during yesterday's meeting, Liang Kung-kai (梁功凱), head of the MND's Department of Strategic Planning, denied a media report that the ministry is planning to set up two submarine ambush zones in the South China Sea.

Liang dismissed the report as mere speculation.

However, Liang said that if war broke out between Taiwan and China, Taiwan's submarines would definitely have the ability to make ambush attacks against China's oil tankers in the South China Sea.

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