Taiwan asks Google to blur images of S. China Sea facilities

TAIPEI • Taiwan's Defence Ministry yesterday said it is asking Google to blur satellite images showing what experts say appear to be new military installations on Itu Aba, Taipei's sole holding in the disputed South China Sea.

The revelation of new military-related construction could raise tensions in the contested waters, where the building of airstrips and other facilities by China has raised tensions with other claimants and the United States.

The images on Google Earth show four three-pronged structures sitting in a semi-circle formation just off the north-western shoreline of Itu Aba, across from an upgraded airstrip and recently constructed port that can dock 3,000 tonne frigates.

"Under the pre-condition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested that Google blur images of important military facilities," Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said yesterday, after local media published the Itu Aba photos.

The US has urged against the militarisation of the South China Sea, after the rapid land reclamation by China on several disputed reefs through dredging and construction of airfields and port facilities.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry and coast guard, which directly oversees Itu Aba, said details about the structures are confidential and have not commented on their nature.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Under the pre-condition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested that Google blur images of important military facilities.

TAIWAN DEFENCE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN CHEN CHUNG-CHI

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Based on the imagery of the structures and their semi-circular layout, the structures were likely related to defence and could be part of an artillery foundation, said defence experts in Taiwan.

"Definitely, it will be for military purposes, but I cannot tell if it is for defending, attacking or monitoring," said Mr Dustin Wang, a former government advisor who has regularly visited Itu Aba.

Mr Wang said that given the structures' position - facing the main seaborne traffic - they may be for surveillance activities.

China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts or all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan asks Google to blur images of S. China Sea facilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe