Taiwan is considering extending the runway on one of the contested Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in a move that could provoke fresh tensions in the heavily disputed South China Sea, media reported yesterday.
If approved, the project would extend by 500m the runway on Taiping Island (太平島), the largest in the disputed waters and 1,376km from Taiwan, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) said.
“The national security authorities lately convened a meeting to evaluate the proposal as the situation in the South China Sea has been getting ever complicated,” it cited an unnamed national security source as saying.
Tensions in the South China Sea have risen recently, with China and the Philippines locked in a maritime dispute over the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), a reef off the Philippine coast.
Work on the runway, currently 1,150m in length, began in 2006 and was completed in 2008, despite protests from other countries with claims in the potentially oil-rich area, including Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Calls for an increase in Taiwan’s defense capability on the disputed area have been on the rise as the other claimants have deployed more troops and added military facilities in the area.
In May the Coast Guard Administration said that the number of intruding Vietnamese boats surged to 106 last year, up from 42 the previous year.
In the same month the government formed a special airborne unit capable of scrambling to the South China Sea in just hours, after a visit by three legislators and several top military officers in a trip intended to bolster the nation’s territorial claim amid mounting tensions in the area.
All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than 5km2.
Meanwhile, a group of Taiwanese university students and professors yesterday wrapped up a trip to the Spratly Islands as part of Taiwan’s defense education, the Ministry of National Defense said.
Additional reporting by staff writer, with CNA