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Iran Press TV

US slams Taiwanese president for S China Sea trip

Iran Press TV

Wed Jan 27, 2016 3:54PM

The US has sharply criticized Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's planned trip to the Taiwanese-held island of Itu Aba in the disputed South China Sea, saying it is "extremely unhelpful" and won't do anything to resolve disputes over the waterway.

Ma's office announced Wednesday that the president, who will step down in May, would fly to Itu Aba Island, also known as Taiping, on Thursday to offer Chinese New Year wishes to the residents there.

The one-day visit, however, drew criticism from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto US embassy in Taipei in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

"We are disappointed that President Ma Ying-jeou plans to travel to Taiping Island," AIT spokeswoman Sonia Urbom told Reuters in an email.

"Such an action is extremely unhelpful and does not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea," she added.

Urbom further noted that Washington wanted Taipei and all sea claimants to lower tensions, instead of taking actions that could raise them.

Itu Aba lies in the Spratly archipelago, which is comprised of more than a hundred islands, reefs and atoll.

Taiwan has just finished a $100 million port upgrade in the island. It has also built a new lighthouse on Itu Aba, which has its own airstrip, a hospital and fresh water.

There are about 600 people living on the 46 hectares (110 acres) island, most of whom are military, coast guard and support personnel.

Both Taiwan and China claim most of the South China Sea, which routes more than $5 trillion worth of commercial shipping each year. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei are other claimants.

China's construction of seven artificial islands in the sea has been heavily criticized by Washington, which accuses Beijing of a "land reclamation program" to build up to 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of artificial islands.

On his trip to Beijing, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that America and China need to find a way to ease tensions in the sea.

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