Taiwan tight-lipped on Taiping structures

The four tetrahedral structures as seen in satellite images. They were not there in January last year.
The four tetrahedral structures as seen in satellite images. They were not there in January last year. PHOTO: GOOGLE EARTH

Speculation grows on possible military nature of new installations on disputed island

TAIPEI • Four new concrete structures on an island controlled by Taiwan that is part of a disputed group in the South China Sea have started a clamour in the press, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has reported.

Speculation over the three-storey to four-storey-high tetrahedral structures, which can be seen via satellite images on Google Earth, has centred on the possibility that they could be anti-attack towers.

In the images, the erections can be seen surrounding a circle-shaped structure on the western coast of Taiping Island, which is also known as Itu Aba in the Philippines. In previous satellite images from January last year, the four structures were not there, the SCMP said.

The 46ha island, about 2,000km south of Taipei, is the biggest feature in the disputed Spratly Islands, and is home to some 200 Taiwanese coast guard personnel and researchers. Taiwan has occupied the island since the 1950s.

Taiwan Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan yesterday had no comment on the structures.

"It is inconvenient for us to reveal any military facilities we are installing on Taiping Island and what their purposes are as they are all considered secrets," the SCMP quoted him as telling reporters after a legislature session in Taipei.

However, Mr Johnny Chiang, a legislator from the opposition Kuomintang, was quoted by the SCMP as saying that he had seen the structures when he went to the island in late July.

Mr Chiang had led a group of Taiwanese lawmakers and fishermen to the island to protest the ruling of an international tribunal that deemed Taiping Island a "rock".

The ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in July has undermined Taiwan's claims to water surrounding Taiping Island, as a "rock" is not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Taiwan has rejected the tribunal's conclusion, declaring that it is not legally binding.

A day later, President Tsai Ing-wen sent off a frigate leaving for Taiping Island on a patrol mission, telling the crew to "defend Taiwan's national interests".

Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) is expected to conduct live-firing drills next month at Taiping and the Dongsha Islands, Taiwan's China Post newspaper quoted a CGA source as telling the United Evening News (UEN). The two rounds of drills will take place on Oct 2 and Oct 3 in waters off the Dongsha Islands, it reported.

However, the CGA has not made an official announcement about the scheduled drill at Taiping, but the UEN was told that the drill on Taiping will also be staged next month, according to China Post.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan tight-lipped on Taiping structures'. Print Edition | Subscribe