The Ministry of National Defense yesterday said it was preparing to set up an air navigation system on the disputed Spratly Islands (南沙群島) in a move that could spark fresh tensions in the South China Sea.
Ministry spokesman Colonel David Lo (羅紹和) said the system, known as the “tactical air navigation system,” would help guide flights to a runway on Taiping Island (太平島), the biggest island in the Spratlys.
“The system is not a weapon and will not pose any military threats to countries in that area,” Lo said.
The system consists of a beacon, which sends off signals informing approaching aircraft about the location of an airstrip.
Taiwan built a 1,150m runway on the fortified Taiping islet in the middle of 2006 despite protests from the other countries with claims on the disputed island group.
Lo would not provide more details of the new project, but the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) said the contractor that won the bid would start work late this month and construction would take two months. The system, centered around an 8m beacon, would become the landmark building on the flat islet, it said.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys.
All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total landmass of less than 5km2.
One-third of global seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea, which is also believed to encompass huge oil and gas reserves.