Minister of National Defense (MND) Michael Tsai’s (蔡明憲) planned trip to Taiping Island (太平島) was at the center of discussion at a meeting of the legislature’s Diplomacy and National Defense Committee yesterday, with lawmakers undecided on whether to accompany him.
The trip is scheduled for Wednesday and will be the last visit by Tsai and the committee’s lawmakers to the southern tip of the nation’s territory before the new government takes office on May 20.
The Chinese-language Apple Daily reported yesterday that the trip would cost NT$17.5 million (US$583,000) and that it had drawn criticism by an anonymous MND official as “a waste of money.”
The paper also reported that Tsai’s invitations to lawmakers from the committee were perceived as an attempt to justify his trip by claiming he must “accompany lawmakers from the committee to make sure national defense mechanisms in Taiping Island are on the right track.”
At the committee meeting yesterday morning, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Shuai Hua-ming (帥化民) said he would accept the invitation.
“As a committee member, I feel obligated to go there in person to learn what is going on and make sure that everything is in good shape,” Shuai said. “We have been discussing this trip for a long time.”
KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said that he could not decide. He felt the trip was necessary, but also believed that Tsai should not waste public funds. The trip should be organized by the incoming defense minister, he said.
“I also feel that the trip is necessary, but that does not mean I will go. We still have responsibilities here at the legislature. Such a trip should be organized during our recess,” Lin said.
MND Spokeswoman Lisa Chi (池玉蘭) said that Tsai’s trip to Taiping Island was a part of the minister’s regular schedule and “necessary.”
Taiping is the largest of the Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops possibly sitting on oil and gas deposits. In addition to Taiwan, five other countries claim sovereignty over the islands.