Taiwan should strengthen presence in Spratlys: lawmakers
ROC Central News Agency
Kaohsiung, Sept. 4 (CNA) A group of Taiwanese lawmakers suggested Tuesday that the government establish a stronger presence on Taiping Island to safeguard the country's territory, shortly after they visited the disputed South China Sea area to observe a live-fire training drill and inspect a new weapons installation.
Legislator Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang, who led the group of three lawmakers on the visit, proposed that the government extend Taiping's 1,150-meter airstrip for improved safety.
"It needs to be lengthened by at least 200 to 300 meters," Lin told the local media.
In light of Vietnam's growing military presence in the region, Lin said, the Taiwan government should invest in building a port on the island so that larger ships and frigates can dock there.
The extension of the airstrip and construction of a port "will help strengthen our combat capabilities," Lin said.
Chen Ting-fei of the major opposition Democratic Progressive Party, also suggested increasing the number of defense personnel stationed on Taiping in view of the escalating tensions over the territorial claims in the region.
Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA) is responsible for defending Taiping, one of the Spratly Islands.
After her first visit to Taiping, Chen said she supported the idea of redeploying Taiwan's Marine Corps on the island.
"We hope the Ministry of National Defense will give priority to this issue," Chen said.
She said she hopes Taiwan can join the talks among China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the South China Sea issue.
The group of lawmakers spent about two hours on the island, during which they watched the firing of machine guns and 81-mm mortars.
Last month, Taiwan deployed 40-mm anti-aircraft guns and 120-mm mortars on Taiping to beef up defense there but those weapons were not used in Tuesday's drill.
With an area of 0.49 square kilometers, Taiping is the largest of the Spratlys, which lie about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The East China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
(By Elaine Hou)
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