Tue, Nov 06, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Artillery training in S China Sea not military drill: CGA

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Coast Guard Administration Director-General Lee Chung-wei, center, answers questions from reporters while attending a meeting of the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: George Tsorng, Taipei Times

A Coast Guard Administration (CGA) artillery drill on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) planned for Nov. 21 to Nov. 23 is part of the agency’s annual training, rather than a military exercise, Ocean Affairs Council Chairman Hwung Hwung-hweng (黃煌煇) said yesterday.

The coast guard training became a major issue among Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers after CNN earlier this year reported that the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet was scheduled to hold a joint military exercise in the South China Sea this month.

However, US Admiral John Richardson on Monday last week denied that there was such a plan.

The Voice of America on the same day reported that Taiwan’s live-fire training would increase tensions in the South China Sea, which are already high due to the escalating conflict between the US and China.

Legislative Yuan Internal Administration Committee convener KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) yesterday summoned officials from the ministries concerned to brief lawmakers on the matter.

Officials were also asked to gauge the artillery training’s possible influence on the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections.

Huang asked if it was true that several US Navy ships have been operating in the waters around Itu Aba Island.

She suggested that the training be held between Nov. 25 and Nov. 27 to avoid any incident, considering that only 20 days are left to election day.

If mishandled, the training could prompt the government to activate national security measures, which could affect the election outcome, she said.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chang Hung-lu (張宏陸) said he found it inappropriate to discuss the issue at the committee.

The coast guard set the date for this year’s artillery exercises late last year, before the Central Election Committee finalized the date for the election.

“The artillery training on Itu Aba Island have been taking place around the same time for years and the countries bordering the South China Sea know about this annual event,” Chan said

“The CGA has a duty to explain to the public that the training is important, as it is held to defend the nation’s sovereignty over Itu Aba Island and protect Taiwan proper, as well as the outlying islands,” he said.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visited the island during his tenure to declare it part of the nation’s territory, DPP Legislator Chiang Chien-an (蔣絜安) said, adding that the KMT should not oppose actions that help guard the nation.

The US Department of Defense did not confirm the reports about military planned exercises in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, Hwung said.

US destroyers have not docked at Itu Aba, he said, adding that US warships have only passed through international waters near the island.

The date of the artillery training should not be changed because of minor issues, and the agency has been told to carefully plan for the training to avoid any unintended consequences, he said.

The training is administered to test the operational availability of the artillery and proficiency of personnel in handling weapons, said Ocean Affairs Council Deputy Chairperson Lee Chung-wei (李仲威), who is also the CGA director-general.

The agency in December last year determined that this year’s training would be administered in March, May, August and this month.

As for Vietnamese protests against the artillery training, Lee said that it would be on national territory and is necessary for national defense.

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