The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) has added color-coded maps to its official Web site showing weather conditions for the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) and the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the South China Sea in a bid to underline the country’s claim over the disputed island groups.
The move comes amid escalating tension in the region over conflicting sovereignty claims. Taiwan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines have all taken new steps to assert their rights over the island chains.
CWB Director-General Hsin Tsai-chin (辛在勤) said that weather conditions are an important part of national data.
“Adding updated weather observation data for the islands to our Web site is part of our strategy to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty over the region,” Hsin said.
Taiwan occupies the Pratas, the largest island group in the South China Sea, as well as Taiping Island (太平島), the largest islet in the Spratlys.
The weather bureau customarily updates weather observation data for Taiwan proper and its Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu islands every 15 to 30 minutes, but data for the Pratas and Taiping can only be updated once every three hours.
Weather bureau officials said the bureau has not yet set up its own observation station in either location.
At the moment, navy and Coast Guard Administration units stationed on the remote islands are responsible for weather observations and the update interval for data transmission through maritime satellite or the navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Bureau takes three hours, the officials said.
Given their locations, both the Pratas and the Spratlys are ideal venues for observing the formation of typhoons and atmospheric circulation in the South China Sea that could threaten Taiwan, they added.
The weather bureau is seeking the support of the naval and coast guard authorities to install a wind profiler on the Pratas Islands and a coastal network of buoys on Taiping Island to gather meteorological data, the officials said, adding that installation of these new facilities would help enhance the accuracy of typhoon and atmospheric circulation forecasting.
As part of the government’s efforts to reinforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, the Ministry of National Defense sent a Chengkung-class frigate carrying a group of graduate, doctoral students and professors to Taiping Island on a study tour last week.
National security sources also said the government is studying the feasibility of expanding an existing runway on Taiping Island to improve flight services on the islet, which lies about 1,600km southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The South China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
After a nearly two-month-long standoff between armed Chinese and Philippine ships in waters near the Scarborough Shoal — the second largest islet of the Spratlys that is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan — that ended late last month due only to rough weather, the Philippine government has reportedly decided to tighten the screening of applications by its fishery workers to work aboard Taiwanese fishing vessels.
According to Philippine manpower agents, Taiwan imports 8,000 fishery workers each fishing season. As China’s fishing industry also faces serious manpower shortages, Taiwan hopes to import more fishery workers from the Philippines.