A group of Taiwanese academics has visited the contested Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙島) in the South China Sea, defense officials said yesterday, amid continued tensions over rival claims to the area.
A 12-member delegation from the Institute of Ocean Technology and Marine Affairs at National Cheng Kung University completed the week-long trip on Sunday, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of the Spratlys, which it is thought may be lying on top of large oil reserves.
“The group was able to use the fact-finding mission to collect first-hand information on issues such as transportation to and from the area, maintaining national security and protecting the South China Sea’s ecosystem,” the ministry said.
“The visit inspired their patriotism and also renewed our territorial claim,” it said.
The move came as local media said Taiwanese authorities were considering extending the runway on Taiping Island (太平島), the largest of the Spratly Islands, which lies about 1,376km from Taiwan.
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.
Calls for an increase in Taiwan’s defense capability in the Spratlys have been on the rise, with rival claimants deploying more troops and adding military facilities in the area.
In May, the Coast Guard Administration said the number of intruding Vietnamese boats last year surged to 106, up from 42 the year before.
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.