Taiwan is considering sending troops back to the disputed Spratlys archipelago?the oil-rich region over which several Asian countries, including China, claim sovereignty?the defense ministry said on Thursday March 16.
Taiwan withdrew troops from Taiping, one of the biggest islets in the Spratlys, in 1999 due to what it called logistical difficulties, leaving the coastguard to patrol the disputed island chain in the South China Sea.
A defense ministry spokesman said the issue came up in parliament on Wednesday when a lawmaker asked if the military could defend Taiping in the event of a Chinese attack.
Defense minister Lee Jye responded by saying there was a lack of military presence on the islet and he was considering resending marines.
“The minister said he is contemplating such an idea. But this is not a policy yet and there is no timetable,” defense ministry spokesman Liou Chih-chien said.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack the self-ruled island if it declares formal independence.
Taiwan began building airstrips on Taiping islet in the Spratlys late last year, prompting a protest from Vietnam, which called the move a serious violation of Vietnamese sovereignty. Vietnam calls the islet Thai Binh.
But Taiwan said the airport would be used for humanitarian purposes, such as emergency rescues and transporting daily supply.
Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim the whole of the Spratlys as their own territory. Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim portions of the string of islets and coral reefs, which is believed to straddle rich oil and gas fields.
Last year, Vietnam abandoned a plan to launch commercial flights to the islands after an irate reaction from China.