Taiwan president to visit disputed Spratly islands

TAIPEI, Jan 20, 2008 (AFP) –

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is planning a visit to the Spratly islands in the South China Sea to underscore Taipei’s claim to the disputed group, it was reported Sunday, in a move that is sure to spark tensions in the region.

The trip, which would come before presidential polls on March 22, is aimed at drumming up support for Frank Hsieh, the ruling independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate in the election, the Taipei-based United Daily News said.

Chen, who is to retire in May after eight years in office, plans to take an air force C-130 transport aircraft to the Taiping Islet, the biggest island in the Spratlys, the newspaper said without citing its source.

It added that since the F-16s could not fully protect Chen during his trip to the islet, which is some 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) from Taiwan’s southern Kaohsiung city, the navy would send a fleet to the Spratlys led by a Kidd-class destroyer.

Presidential Office spokesman Lee Nan-yang would not confirm the visit. “The president visits various troop units before the Lunar New Year each year,” he told AFP.

“He may do so this year to boost military morale, but we’ve yet to receive this year’s visit plan from the defence ministry.”

If it takes place, the trip would lead to protests from neighbouring countries — including its rival China — which also lay claim to the islands, the daily said.

Taiwan’s defence ministry began building a 1,150-metre-long (3,795-feet) runway in the fortified Taiping islet in mid-2006, despite protest from Vietnam, and the project is nearly complete, it said.

The DPP suffered a humiliating defeat in parliamentary elections on January 12, with the major opposition Kuomintang and its smaller allies winning 86 of 113 seats. Chen immediately resigned as DPP chairman.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres (two square miles).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: