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Taiwan stepping up Coast Guard patrols in South China Sea

2016/07/13 19:13:25

The Wei Hsing patrol vessel. (CNA file photo).

Taipei, July 13 (CNA) Taiwan will strengthen its Coast Guard patrols in the South China Sea to protect its fishermen there, Cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) said Wednesday, one day after an international tribunal delivered a ruling that was seen as detrimental to Taiwan's territorial claims in the region.

A 1,000-ton Coast Guard Administration (CGA) patrol vessel named the "Taitung," which will be dispatched to the Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba) on July 16, will remain in the area indefinitely to safeguard Taiwan's territory and protect its fishermen's rights, Tung said.

In addition, the 1,800-ton "Wei Hsing" patrol vessel, which left Taiwan proper on July 10, is already in the Taiping area, Tung said, adding that Taiwan remains committed to protecting its fishing rights.

On Wednesday, a La Fayette-class Navy frigate set sail from Taiwan for the South China Sea on a patrol mission, departing one day ahead of schedule.

Before its departure, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) gave a pep talk to the crew on board, saying that the government was committed to maintaining Taiwan's sovereignty over Taiping and other islands in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Deputy CGA chief Hu Yi-gang (胡意剛) said during a legislative committee meeting Wednesday that Taiwan's Coast Guard would drive away any foreign fishing boats that venture within 200 nautical miles of Taiping.

Not many foreign fishing boats are usually seen near Taiping and those that have been spotted there in the past have been from Vietnam, Hu said.

However, despite the increased patrols, the government of Taiwan is aiming to handle the South China Sea issue cautiously, according to Tung.

Tung told reporters on Wednesday that as a responsible member of the international community, "the Republic of China (Taiwan) has a responsibility to maintain regional peace and stability."

In response to reporters' questions about the possibility of Premier Lin Chuan (林全) visiting Taiping, Tung said he would not rule out such a visit since Taiping is part of the Republic of China's territory but the premier had no immediate plans to do so.

In a case brought by the Philippines against China, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled Tuesday that none of the Spratly Islands, including Taiping, could be considered "islands" and therefore are not entitled to 200-nautical-mile economic zones.

Taiwan's government, which was not a party to the case, has said it will not accept the ruling and that the ruling is not binding on Taiwan.

An island is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, compared with only a 12-nautical-mile zone for "rocks."

Taiwan has long defined the 0.51-square kilometer Taiping, which lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, as an island that can sustain human habitation and economic life. Taiwan took control of Taiping -- the largest natural feature in the Spratly Islands -- in 1956.

Six countries -- Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam -- fully or partially claim the islands in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters that are strategically critical lanes for ships and planes that navigate in the region.

(By Tang Ya-chen, Claudia Liu and Elaine Hou)
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