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U.S. 'disappointed' over Ma's Taiping Island visit

ROC Central News Agency

2016/01/28 12:35:10

Washington, D.C., Jan. 27 (CNA) The United States government on Wednesday expressed its disappointment over a visit by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to Taiping Island in the South China Sea, saying that such action is 'unhelpful' to resolving the dispute in the region.

'Frankly we're disappointed. We view such an action as unhelpful. And it does not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea,' Mark Toner, deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department, said at a daily press briefing in response to a question about the U.S.'s view of Ma's visit.

'We urge Taiwan and all claimants to lower tensions and de-escalate tensions rather than taking actions that could possibly raise them,' said Toner, whose comments came after the United States' de-facto embassy in Taiwan expressed disappointment and called the visit 'extremely unhelpful.'

When asked by a CNA reporter if it is fair for the U.S. to use the words 'disappointed' and 'unhelpful' to refer to Ma's visit when it did not use those words to describe China's land reclamation activities on other atolls in the region, Toner paused before saying that the U.S. disagrees with China's actions and also views them as unhelpful.

'We want to see a halt among all claimants to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, militarization of outposts. All of that would help lower tensions and create space for a peaceful resolution,' he said.

Toner did not directly reply to a follow-up question on whether Ma's visit will affect U.S.-Taiwan relations, saying only that the two sides have 'very strong relations' and that the U.S. looks forward to building stronger relations with Taiwan under Tsai Ing-wen, who was elected president on Jan. 16.

As to whether the U.S. will make sure that Taiwan is invited to the table to participate in a diplomatic approach to the South China Sea disputes, Toner said he cannot speak to whether the U.S. will invite Taiwan to take part in any diplomatic conversations, but called the country a 'valued partner' with which the U.S. has strong dialogue.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government issued a statement Thursday apparently in response to Ma's visit.

'We remind all parties concerned of our shared responsibility to refrain from actions that can increase tension in the South China Sea,' Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose said in the statement.

Ma landed on Taiping Island late Thursday morning after departing from Taiwan's southern county of Pingtung on board an Air Force C-130 transport plane for the 1,600-kilometer trip.

It is the first such visit by a Republic of China (Taiwan) president since Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) went to the island in February 2008.

The visit comes as the Taiwan government moves to reinforce Taiwan's sovereignty claim over the island in the wake of China's buildup in the region and the Philippines' case against Beijing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

The islands in the resource-rich South China Sea and their surrounding waters are fully or partially claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiping Island has been administrated by Taiwan since 1946.

(By Rita Cheng and Christie Chen)
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