Taiwan plans to bolster the defences of Taiping Island, the largest islet in the Spratlys, after increased tensions in the South China Sea. Taipei is to act to uphold its claim over the Spratlys - also claimed by the mainland, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam - after remaining relatively quiet in recent territorial disputes over the islands. Taiwan's defence ministry has agreed to help the Coast Guard Administration beef up security on Taiping, the only islet in the group to have fresh water, weeks after the Philippines said it would build up its air and sea defences in the region. 'The Coast Guard Administration has recently asked for review of its current defensive deployments, which have become obsolete over the years, in order to beef up the security of both the Pratas and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea,' Taiwanese defence ministry spokesman Luo Shou-he said yesterday. Taiwan used to station marines on Taiping, but replaced them with the coastguard personnel in 1999 in the hope of reducing tension. The island is 1.4 kilometres long and 400 metres wide. Luo said the ministry would do all it could to help meet the security needs of the coastguard. He said the military had provided a list of weapons for the coastguard to choose from. According to Taiwanese media reports, the coastguard has chosen 40mm anti-aircraft guns and 120mm mortar systems. Luo said the military would respect whatever decision the coastguard made. He said coastguards posted to Taiping and the Pratas were given military marine training. This month, the Philippines said it would spend US$118 million to build up its air and sea defence in the Spratlys after mainland vessels repeatedly disrupted its oil and gas exploration efforts. Last week, Manila proposed joint economic development by Southeast Asian nations in the disputed parts of the South China Sea, which would count out Beijing and Taipei, a move certain to upset the mainland. Tension has been on the rise since March with the mainland, Vietnam and Philippines staging military drills in surrounding waters to demonstrate their claims over the region. Since June, Beijing has called several times for co-operation with Taipei in dealing with the issue, only to be rebuffed by the administration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. To avoid being sidelined on sovereignty and to increase its visibility, Taiwan sent a group of academics to Taiping on a navy ship in July to conduct academic research. This month, Taipei sent a group of officials to install a solar panel system. Taiwanese media have also reported that Ma might visit Taiping to stress Taipei's claim, but Taiwan's Presidential Office said Ma had 'no current plan' to visit. Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, was the first Taiwanese leader to visit Taiping, in February 2008, a move that drew protests from Vietnam and the Philippines.