Taiwan lawmakers urge outgoing president to visit contested island

They want Tsai Ing-wen to attend the inauguration ceremony for a renovated pier, in a move likely to anger Taiwan’s neighbors.
By RFA Staff
2024.01.29
Taiwan lawmakers urge outgoing president to visit contested island An aerial view of Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, in the South China Sea, Nov. 29, 2016.
Reuters/Fabian Hamacher

Taipei has completed a dredging and pier renovation project on Taiping island – the biggest feature in the South China Sea to be occupied by Taiwan.

Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, is also claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

An inauguration ceremony for the project is to be held next month, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency (CNA) reported without providing further details.

Legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Monday called on President Tsai Ing-wen to pay a visit to the island to attend the ceremony, CNA reported. 

Tsai has never visited Taiping during her time in office, and a visit now is likely to provoke condemnation from other claimant countries.

DPP legislator, Hsu Chih-chieh, was quoted by CNA as saying at a caucus meeting that every past president has visited Taiping island and it is only appropriate for her to go, too. Tsai’s presence would help assert Taiwan’s sovereignty over the island, as well as encourage the troops stationed there, Hsu said.

Another legislator, Lai Jui-lung, was quoted as saying that Taiping island is Taiwan’s territory and, as head of state, Tsai should attend the inauguration ceremony even if tension arises internationally.

Besides the pier, the Taiwanese military reportedly planned to renovate and extend an airstrip on the island to accommodate fighter jets. It is unclear whether this runway extension project went ahead.

Taiwan’s infrastructure development, as well as military activities, on Taiping island have been criticized by the Philippines and Vietnam as stoking tensions in the South China Sea.

In August 2023, Hanoi protested against a drill held on Taiping (Ba Binh island in Vietnamese), calling it “a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty.” Taipei rejected the accusation.

Taiping monument.JPG
A monument, which reads "The Republic of China, Spratly Islands, Taiping island", is seen on Taiwan-occupied Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, March 23, 2016. (Reuters/Fabian Hamacher)

Taiping is located in the north-western part of the Spratly islands, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from Taiwan and 853 kilometers (530 miles) from the Philippines. It is under the administration of Kaohsiung Municipality.

It has been under Taiwan’s control since 1956, and Taipei has deployed troops, rockets and warships there.

Despite it being called an island, an international tribunal in 2016 ruled that Taiping is a “rock” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and therefore not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China rejected the ruling.

Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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