Taiwan's coastguard yesterday commissioned its biggest ships for duty in the form of two 3,000-tonne patrol vessels, as the island boosts defences amid concerns over the mainland's growing footprint in the South China Sea. The new vessels will be able to dock at a port being constructed on Taiping Island, the largest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, before the end of this year. Taiwan's coastguard has had direct oversight of the 46-hectare island, also known as Itu Aba, since 2000. "Taiping Island's defence capabilities will not be weak," said Wang Chung-yi, minister of the Coast Guard Administration, referring to recent upgrade of the 1,200-metre airstrip on Taiping and the building of a new port, which he said could be completed as early as October this year. Taiping Island maintained "not so much a military as a civil role", Wang said in Taipei. Taiwan would not create conflict, but "we will not concede" if provoked, he said. Unlike the Philippines and Vietnam, Taiwan has largely avoided becoming ensnared in public disputes with Beijing over the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims. Rival claims by Taiwan and Beijing go back to before defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists in 1949. Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province to be retaken one day and bans actions that would confer sovereignty, such as negotiating territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou boarded one of the new ships yesterday, observing rescue drills in waters off the southern port city of Kaohsiung. One of the vessels will be sent to the South China Sea, while the other will be assigned to waters north of Taiwan where it has overlapping claims with Japan. Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported yesterday that Group of Seven leaders meeting in Germany today would express their concern over any unilateral action to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.