The coast guard will sponsor more ecosystem camps on the Dongsha Islands (東沙島) as part of the government’s effort to defend sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Minister Wang Ginn-wang (王進旺) said on Saturday.
Wang was on hand as a group of graduate and undergraduate students returned from the first camp program, which began on Wednesday.
The camps are aimed at allowing young Taiwanese to experience life in the country’s southernmost territory. They were organized by the coast guard in collaboration with the ministries of education and national defense, the Marine National Park Administration and the Kaohsiung City Marine Bureau.
One of the 23 students in the group told Wang she was “full of emotion” and had cried during a flag-raising ceremony on Friday that she attended along with other students and the 100-plus coast guard personnel stationed on Dongsha.
The students got a first-hand look at the power generation and seawater desalination operations on the islands, as well as efforts to conserve plant species and the ecosystem. They also took a speedboat trip to watch coast guard personnel inspecting fishing boats operating in the region.
“All these activities were designed to help our young students better understand the government’s efforts to defend our claims to the disputed region,” Wang said.
Six countries — Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — claim all or part of the South China Sea.
Taiwan controls the Dongsha Islands — also known as the Pratas Islands — and Taiping Island (太平島), the largest island in the Spratly Islands (南沙群島) archipelago. The camp program came amid a growing military buildup by some countries in the region.
The Chinese-language United Evening News reported on Saturday that a second group was scheduled to depart for Dongsha on Aug. 24.
The paper said authorities are studying the feasibility of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) meeting with the group on the atoll to reinforce the country’s claims.
Earlier this year Ma said organizing academic camps on the islet would be a good way to defend the country’s sovereignty claim to area.