Taiwan is planning to beef up its presence on the disputed Spratly Islands with missile boats and tanks, a military spokesman said yesterday.
The islands in the South China Sea, which may lie on top of large undiscovered oil reserves, have been claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. The Spratlys have been the focal point of recent tensions between China and Vietnam.
Taiwan claims the Spratlys as well as three other island groups and the coastguard currently has 130 men station on Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys chain.
“Currently the coastguards in the Nansha (Spratlys) and Tungsha (Pratas) are only armed with light weapons,” Taiwan’s defence ministry spokesman David Lo said yesterday.
“The missile boats and tanks is an option we’ve offered to the coastguards.
Lo, who gave no specific numbers, added that the final decision lies with the coastguard,
Taiwan’s 47-tonne Seagull-class missile boats are armed with two ship-to-ship missiles with a 40km range.
Last week, China demanded that Vietnam halt oil exploration in the disputed waters. Vietnam confirmed on Saturday, in an apparent response, that it plans to hold “routine” live-fire naval drills off its central coast today.
China upped the ante after the announcement with a commentary in a newspaper published by China’s ruling Communist Party, warning Vietnam that it could come out the loser in an escalating squabble.
China and the Philippines also traded barbs last week, with Filipino officials accusing Chinese forces of intruding into Manila-claimed areas six times since February and of firing shots in at least one incident.
The Philippine military said in April that they plan to deploy their new United States-made vessel to boost patrols the waters around the Spratlys after Chinese patrol boats harassed a Philippine oil exploration vessel.