Taipei, May 16 (CNA) Taiwan is preparing to increase its military deployment on Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea amid growing tensions in the area, an official said Wednesday.
“We are preparing to deploy to Taiping multi-functional patrol boats of more than six tonnes, which are expected to be completed in late July,” said Huang Shih-wei, director of Coast Guard Administration (CGA), adding that there are currently 2.5-tonne boats in service near the island.
The plan is aimed at giving the coast guard personnel stationed on the island greater power to prevent foreign boats from entering the restricted area, Huang told CNA on the sidelines of a legislative committee meeting.
At present, coast guard personnel, instead of military troops, are responsible for patrolling Taiping. In 2000, Taiwan withdrew its marines from the island.
At the legislative meeting, several lawmakers across party lines expressed concern about whether the coastguard officers on Taiping and the military equipment deployed there were sufficient to safeguard the island, given the growing tensions in the South China Sea.
Fielding questions from legislators, Huang said the CGA is working closely with the defense ministry on upgrading the weapons deployed on Taiping to beef up Taiwan’s defense capabilities and combat readiness.
However, he did not elaborate on the weapon upgrade plan.
Huang said the CGA is committed to safeguarding Taiwan’s territory. “We will not act like we’re weak, neither will we take provocative action,” he said.
Currently, large ships and frigates cannot be deployed to Taiping because there is no harbor there, Huang said.
The CGA is mulling the possibility of building a harbor on Taiping, but issues such as the budget and environmental impact assessments have to be taken into account before such a decision can be made, he said.
Recent tensions in the region include an ongoing standoff between China and the Philippines that erupted April 10 over the Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the Philippines.
A Vietnamese patrol ship and foreign fishing vessels were also found to have entered the restricted waters near Taiping Island in late March, Huang said.
Taiping Island is the largest of the Spratly Islands, which lie about 1,600 km southwest of Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.
The South China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part