Taiwan warns of Spratly Islands training drill

Announcement of five days of live-fire exercises could cause mounting tensions with neighbours

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 3:23am

Taiwan has risked angering its neighbours by warning that it will stage a five-day live-fire drill in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Foreign ministry spokesman Steve Hsia said the training exercise would take place on Taiping Island, in the South China Sea, between September 1 and 5.

He said the notification was in line with international practice and was given so that neighbouring countries would warn their vessels not to sail near Taiping Island during the drill.

"It will just be a routine drill," Hsia said, adding the exercise will be conducted by the Coast Guard Administration instead of the defence ministry because the defence of Taiping Island was now in the hands of the coastguard.

Since 2000, Taiwan has removed troops from Taiping Island, one of the largest in the Spratlys group.

The Spratlys are claimed wholly or in part by Taiwan, the mainland, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The replacement of troops with coastguard officers was one of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian's policies to try to ease tensions in the region.

However, in February 2008, three months before he stepped down as president, Chen was accompanied by a prominent naval force - including Kidd-class destroyers and submarines - on an inspection of the island to assert Taiwan's sovereignty over it.

With tensions in the region having escalated this year, Taiwan has sent coastguard officers with previous military training to Taiping.

On August 7, Taiwan's defence ministry said it had worked with the coastguard to help beef up Taiwan's defences on the island.

Taiwanese media said that help had included sending a number of 40 millimetre anti-aircraft guns and 120mm mortars to Taiping to replace obsolete 106mm recoilless guns and 81mm mortars.

The legislature suggested doing away with the obsolete arms following an inspection by a group of legislators in May.

Lin Yu-fang, who led the inspection, said on August 12 he would lead another delegation to Taiping in the middle of next month to see how the island's defences had been upgraded.

Taiwanese media said last month that the defence ministry had also helped extend the island's runway by 500 metres.

Both the May inspection and the runway extension project triggered strong protests from Vietnam.



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