Taiwan and China should jointly exploit the sea environment around Taiping Island (太平島) and cooperate in defending the area against aggression, a former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator and CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC) board director said in Shanghai last week, adding fuel to an already tense situation in the South China Sea.
Chiu Yi (邱毅), the firebrand former legislator who was appointed to the board of the state-owned oil company earlier this month, made the remarks on the sidelines of the “cross-strait economic interaction and new opportunities” conference at Jiaotong University in Shanghai last week.
“The seabed around Taiping Island has abundant reserves of oil and natural gas,” Chiu said.
“There would be great merit in a cross-strait joint development project,” he said, adding that so far the proposal has not been adopted by the government.
China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), China’s largest offshore explorer, signed four cooperation agreements with CPC Corp in December 2008, which included a letter of intent for closer cooperation.
However, little has been done to further those agreements since, Chiu said.
Calling Vietnam the “greatest threat” to the potentially energy-rich area, Chiu called for joint exploration of oil and natural gas fields in the area, adding that the military forces on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should join hands in the defense of the area from aggression.
Chiu’s comments were first reported by the pro-China Want Daily newspaper.
Although Taipei’s official position is that it will not cooperate with China in resolving disputes in the South China Sea, Chiu’s remarks are sure to draw the attention of other claimants, who remain wary of a possible tie-up between Taipei and Beijing.
According to a report in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has begun considering the possibility of bilateral cooperation in the area.
The paper also pointed to unconfirmed reports that Taipei could cooperate in return for Beijing’s approval of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.
Suggestions by Taiwanese academics of cross-strait cooperation in the South China Sea in recent months have also drawn concern within the region. Earlier this month, several participants at an academic conference in Hainan, China, raised the possibility of joint projects, including resource exploration in the South China Sea.
Taiwan, one of the six claimants in disputed areas of the South China Sea, has control of Taiping Island, the largest in the Spratlys (南沙島), where it completed a 1,150m airstrip in 2008. According to recent reports, the National Security Council is exploring new measures to strengthen Taiwan’s claims to the island, including the extension of the runway by between 300m and 500m to accommodate larger aircraft. Taiwan is also building a 7m-high tactical air navigation (TACAN) facility on the island to facilitate instrument landing and will deploy anti-aircraft guns and mortars next month.
The Coast Guard Administration has been in charge of defending the area since 2000.
A Ministry of National Defense official would not confirm reports last week that P-3C “Orion” maritime patrol aircraft, which the Navy is in the process of acquiring from the US, could be deployed there. However, the spokesman confirmed to the Diplomat magazine last week that the surveillance aircraft would be used to protect the entirety of “the Republic of China’s territory,” which could be understood to include the parts of the South China Sea claimed by Taiwan.
Turning to political dialogue in the Taiwan Strait, Chiu said he feared that if the current “political bottleneck” was not addressed, the progress made in recent years in economic and trade areas could sour.
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