Taiwan will not militarize the largest South China Sea island – Defense Minister

Taiwan will not follow up on China’s militarization of the South China Sea with its own island-fortification efforts, its top defense official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Taiwan’s government exercises de facto control over the islands of Pratas and Itu Aba (which it calls Dongsha and Taiping), where it has deployed several hundred Coast Guard personnel for more than 20 years.

In doing so, Taiwan replaced naval contingents in a move that signaled its willingness to de-escalate tensions in disputed waters. Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Taipei had no intention of stepping down.

China also claims Prata, while Taiping’s claimants include China, Vietnam and the Philippines. But only one—namely Beijing—has spent half a decade converting its South China Sea features into military bases from which to conduct major naval and air operations.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported on the complete militarization of China’s Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fairy Cross Reef.

During a patrol in the South China Sea with Admiral John Aquilino, who commanded US forces in the Pacific, the official explained that he believed it was China’s “largest military build-up since World War II”.

This included anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as lasers, electronic jamming equipment and some fighter aircraft, he told the AP on Sunday.

The weapon threatens a third of global shipping that passes through the energy-rich seas, over which China claims “historic rights” through its “nine-dash line”.

This satellite image, published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, shows an overview of Taiwan-controlled Itu Aba in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea on January 8, 2018.
CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe

Asked about a possible response by Taiwan, given Itu Aba’s proximity to China’s fully armed reefs, Chiu told island legislators that the government would remain on course.

At a parliamentary hearing in Taipei, he said, “The reason everyone is able to maintain … mutual non-aggression is due to the silent observation of a rule: don’t attack me, and I won’t attack you.” ” ,

,[China] Has its own militarization objectives. China has ambitions in the South China Sea, because it believes it has a right to it, so it has added some military installations.”

“What can we do, as on Taiping Island, deploy non-military garrisons, members of the Coast Guard. What is the significance of this? To let everyone know that this is not a military facility. Its focus is on the maintenance of maritime security. in a peaceful manner,” Chiu said.

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According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a project under Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, the oval Itu Aba, which is 1,000 miles from Taiwan’s southwest port city of Kaohsiung, is the largest of the Spratly Islands. .

Meanwhile, Pratas Island, 280 miles from Taiwan, was designated an atoll national park in 2007.

“While it generally focuses on keeping the coral reef system around Itu Aba pristine as an example of environmental protection in disputed waters, Taiwan reclaimed approximately eight acres of land to build a new pier, which as of 2015 was finally completed,” said AMTI’s island tracker.

In September 2015, during a state visit to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a public commitment not to militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea. On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said it was “naturally entitled to deploy necessary defense facilities on its territory.”

Aquilino said China’s militarized reefs served to “expand the offensive capability” of its forces behind the country’s coasts. “They can fly all those offensive capabilities of fighter planes, bombers and missile systems.

“So this threat exists, so it’s very concerning for the militarization of these islands. They threaten all the nations that operate in the surrounding area and all international seas and airspace,” he told the AP.

Taiwan Says China Will Not Militarize Sea Islands
This aerial image taken from a C-130 transport aircraft shows Taiwan-controlled Ibu Aba in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea on March 23, 2016. The top US commander in the Pacific said China had at least fully militarized. On three disputed islands in the South China Sea, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said the Taiwan government would not do so during a legislative hearing in Taipei on March 22, 2022.
Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

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