World press gets tour of Taipei-run disputed isle

A lighthouse in Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys chain.
A lighthouse in Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys chain.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI • Taiwan yesterday gave its first international press tour of a disputed island in the South China Sea to boost its claim, less than two months after a visit by its leader sparked protests from rival claimants.

Taiping is the largest island in the Spratlys chain and is administered by Taiwan, which sees it as part of its territory.

But the Spratlys are also claimed wholly or in part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei and have been at the centre of escalating rows.

A visit to Taiping by Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou in January triggered criticism from the United States, which described it as "extremely unhelpful", as well as protests from Vietnam and the Philippines.

But Taiwan remains undeterred in asserting its claim.

"We hope that the international community will understand our position in safeguarding our sovereignty in the South China Sea and our effective administration of Taiping island," Deputy Foreign Minister Bruce Linghu said after the Taiwanese group arrived on the island yesterday.

The Philippines is in the midst of an arbitration case against China at the Hague over the South China Sea. As part of its case, the Philippines argues that Taiping and other islands are just "rocks", a categorisation which helps its broad claims in the area.

Taiwan disagrees, saying Taiping is a fully fledged island, a categorisation which entitles it to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

As part of efforts to strengthen defence capabilities on Taiping, Taiwan last year inaugurated a solar- powered lighthouse, an expanded airstrip and a pier - all stops on the press tour.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'World press gets tour of Taipei-run disputed isle'. Print Edition | Subscribe