Three Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, accompanied by security and defense officials, yesterday paid a surprise visit to Taiping Island (太平島), the largest island in the Spratly Islands (南沙群島) chain, to assert the nation’s sovereign right over the region.
“The purpose of our trip is to encourage the government to take pro-active measures to safeguard our homeland, sovereignty and interests in South China Sea,” KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) told a press conference last night.
Lin, co-chair of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, made arrangements for the trip on Friday last week. He was accompanied by Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), two officials from the National Security Council and KMT legislators Chen Cheng-hsiang (陳鎮湘) and Chan Kai-chen (詹凱臣).
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had advanced knowledge of the trip, Lin said.
The officials flew to Taiping from an air base in Pingtung County at 7am on board a C-130 transport aircraft and returned at 1pm after spending some time on board a coast guard vessel patrolling the waters around Zhongzhou reef (中洲礁), Lin said.
Taiping Island is manned by about 120 coast guard personnel who have received training similar to that of marines. Taiwan withdrew its marine forces in 2000 in an attempt to reduce tensions in the region.
Lin said the government should continue to enhance the defense capabilities of the Coast Guard Administration, increase the number of coast guard personnel stationed on the islands and speed up its evaluation to replace their military equipment.
“It’s very important to safeguard Taiping and Zhongzhou reef. Only when we do so can we secure a role in negotiations with other claimants,” Lin said.
Chen urged the government to try hard to negotiate with other claimants to secure the country’s chance to explore oil and natural gas reserves in the region.
Earlier yesterday, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) downplayed the significance of the trip, saying it was normal that lawmakers would on occasion pay their respects to coast guards personnel deployed on Taiping.
Kao made the remarks after Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers on the same committee as Lin complained that they were not invited to take part in the trip.
DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) deplored what he called a “sneaky action,” saying it had “greatly overshadowed the significance of manifesting sovereignty.”
“It was supposed to be a good thing. What was the KMT afraid of? Why did it deliberately hold back the information [on the visit]?” Tsai asked.
The notice sent by Lin to members of the committee said only that he had scheduled a trip to inspect military facilities in southern Taiwan, but did not mention Taiping Island.
Lin rebutted the allegation, showing papers at the press conference to show that details of the trip had been published on a conference notice.