Mon, Feb 04, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Chen Shui-bian defends his visit to Taiping Island

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday defended his visit to the disputed Spratly Islands, saying it was a "historic journey."

Chen told reporters in Taichung County yesterday that it was his presidential duty to review troops and his trip to Taiping Island (太平島) was legitimate and worthwhile.

"As the nation's leader, shouldn't I visit troops on behalf of the people and give them our regards?" he said.

Chen visited Taiwan's military forces stationed on Taiping Island on Saturday. He also inspected an airstrip that was recently completed to facilitate maritime rescue work.

In his speech at the opening ceremony for the airstrip, Chen proposed a "Spratly Initiative," calling for countries in the South China Sea area to set aside sovereignty disputes and cooperate with each other to protect the Spratly's environment and resources.

Chen is the first president from Taiwan to set foot on the biggest atoll of the Spratly chain. His low-profile visit was largely seen as a move to assert a sovereignty claim.

Late last month, the Presidential Office denied that Chen was planning to visit the Spratly Islands for the sole purpose of raising the profile of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷).

The Presidential Office said it is a tradition for the president to visit military camps ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

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