Taiwan minister visits Taiping Island in South China Sea

A general view of Taiping island in the South China Sea. PHOTO: AFP/THE OFFICE OF KUOMINTANG (KMT) LAWMAKER JOHNNY CHIANG

TAIPEI (THE CHINAPOST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Taiwan Interior Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong on Tuesday (Aug 16) became the highest level government official of the Tsai administration to visit Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island, where he reiterated the Republic of China's (ROC) territorial claim.

Yeh, alongside a delegation of scientists, Coast Guardsmen and Kaohsiung city officials, unveiled a plaque for the island's hospital that listed its address: Nansha No. 2, Zhongxing Borough No. 18, Kaohsiung City's Qijin District. The island is also known as Itu Aba.

The minister also emphasised the Taiping facilities' research capabilities and their readiness to combat global climate change.

Before Yeh's trip, the US State Department had called on all South China Sea claimants to avoid action that would raise tensions and to instead intensify efforts to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution to disputes.

US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau did not comment specifically on Yeh's trip.

When asked if Taiwan had notified its most important ally on Yeh's trip, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there was no need for the government to inform other countries of the visit.

The visit comes at a time when tensions run high in the South China Sea, following a ruling last month by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The verdict had ruled heavily in favour of the Philippines over China and dented Taiwan interests in the region.

Taiwan, which was not party to the case, rejected the result and said the decision had"severely damaged" its claim in part because it classified Taiping as a rock and not an island.

The decision prompted Taiwan to temporarily strengthen its Coast Guard patrols around Taiping and placed political pressure on the president to visit the island.

In late July, Taiwanese fishermen organised themselves into a fleet that tried to set foot on Taiping, despite government discouragement.

Yeh's visit provoked different responses from Taiwan's political parties.

While lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voiced support, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) branded the visit as an act of showmanship and of doing"too little too late."

KMT deputy caucus leader Wang Yu-min accused the government of being more concerned with lifting the president's approval ratings than with defending Taiwan fishermen's rights.

Hsu Yung-ming, a lawmaker from the New Power Party, said that having the interior minister lead Tuesday's delegation was more appropriate than sending the defense minister, whose visit could heighten tensions in the disputed area.

People First Party lawmaker Chen Yi-chieh called on the government to do more than proclaim the sovereignty of Taiping Island, and to explicitly refute Japan's claim that the Okinotori atoll was an "island."

The Presidential Office reiterated that Tsai Ing-wen had no current plans to visit the island, but that she did not rule out a trip in the future.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.