Taiwan’s coastguard said it was likely to increase its presence in a disputed South China Sea archipelago, in response to a significant rise in the number of foreign fishing boats there.
Taiwan’s coastguard, which has a base on Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys, has reported a steep rise in the number of foreign fishing vessels in the area, media reports said.
“Yes, it’s likely,” said Shih Yi-che, a spokesman for Taiwan’s coastguard, when asked if the service would send more patrol boats to the archipelago, which lies around 1,500 kilometres (937 miles) south of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s coastguard operates three patrol boats from Taiping, known as Ba Binh in Vietnam, where it has also built a runway for providing logistical support and humanitarian assistance.
By the end of May, Taiwan’s coastguard had counted more than 500 foreign vessels, mostly from China, off Taiping, more than double the number reported for the whole of 2008, media reports said.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry reaffirmed the island’s claim to the Spratlys, along with three other archipelagos in the South China Sea, which straddle important shipping lanes.
“The Spratly islands are the territory of the Republic of China (Taiwan), whether from the point of view of history, geography, and international law,” acting foreign ministry spokesman James Chang told AFP.
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 has a total land mass of less than five square kilometres (two square miles).