Tue, Jul 19, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Committee members to visit Itu Aba

SENSITIVE TIMING:Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan turned down an invitation to join the trip, despite previously saying he would go if one was organized

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) yesterday announced a plan to arrange for members of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee to visit Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) tomorrow, in an effort to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty claims over the contested land feature.

“I contacted the Ministry of National Defense today and confirmed that members of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee will make a trip to Itu Aba on Wednesday,” Chiang said.

Chiang said that as participants would be traveling on a routine military supply flight to Itu Aba — which only has seven extra seats — members of the legislative committee would enjoy priority registration for the visit.

However, Chiang expressed disappointment over Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan’s (馮世寬) decision to turn down his invitation on the grounds that the timing was too sensitive for such a visit.

Chang made the remarks one day after he extended an invitation to Feng on Facebook on Sunday night to make good on his pledge to accompany lawmakers on a visit to Itu Aba to reiterate Taiwan’s sovereignty over the island and pay respect to personnel stationed there.

“Minister Feng, you said during a legislative question-and-answer session last month, where you revealed the ministry’s plan to ship 40,000 rounds of ammunition for its 40mm guns on Itu Aba, that you are willing to come along should I arrange an inspection visit to the island,” Chang wrote on Facebook.

Chang said since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) does not seem to want to make a trip to Itu Aba to defend the nation’s sovereignty, Feng should fulfill his promise.

Tsai has been facing pressure to take action after a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Tuesday last week, which said that all of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), including Itu Aba, are legally “rocks” that do not have an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.

There have been calls for Tsai to follow in the steps of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and visit Itu Aba, the largest naturally occurring land feature in the Spratlys, which has been controlled by Taiwan since 1956.

While expressing respect to Chiang’s planned trip, the legislative committee’s convener, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳), said since the legislature has issued a joint statement regarding the nation’s claims over the South China Sea islands, legislators across party lines should stand united.

DPP Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said the trip should not be allowed to affect the military’s routine supply missions.

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