A long-stalled runway upgrade project on Pratas Island (Dongsha Island, 東沙群島) has finally begun, despite rising military threats from China, and should be completed early next year, a Ministry of National Defense (MND) report said yesterday.
The ministry originally found a contractor for the project on the island in the South China Sea on Feb. 20 last year and construction was supposed to begin on April 6 that year, said the report, which was sent to lawmakers for review.
However, regional tensions and poor weather conditions prevented any progress from being made for nearly a year, but the contractor recently began work on the runway upgrade, and it is expected to be completed in February next year.
The ministry did not provide further details about the project, saying only that once completed, the runway could be used to “rapidly transport military assets to support the nation’s armed forces.”
The airport is mainly used for military purposes, with military C-130 transport planes regularly landing there.
Private airline Uni Air also flies there once a week from Kaohsiung, but the service is only for Coast Guard Administration staff stationed on the island.
The report added that Taiwan would soon deploy 292 Kestrel anti-armor rockets on Pratas Island and Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) to beef up their defense amid Beijing’s increasing military incursions in the region.
The Kestrel anti-armor rocket, developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, is a shoulder-launched anti-
armor weapon that can penetrate concrete.
The ministry’s report was released after Chinese drones were spotted near Pratas Island, while Chinese People’s Liberation Army aircraft have been flying through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone near the Pratas Island on an almost daily basis.
Pratas Island lies 450km southwest of Kaohsiung, while Itu Aba Island is 1,600km southwest of Kaohsiung. The two are staffed by coast guard personnel trained by the Marine Corps, but the ministry last year said it would temporarily post marines on Pratas Island amid reports the Chinese military planned to conduct drills in the area.
The military never revealed other details, such as the number of marines deployed, when they arrived on the island, or how long they would stay.
Taiwan, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim all or part of the South China Sea region as their territory.
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