Taipei, May 3 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Thursday turned down the idea of Taiwan redeploying short-range air defense missiles in a disputed area in the South China Sea.
Any such moves by Taiwan could spark political controversy and affect the country's regular patrol missions in the area, Deputy Defense Minister Chao Shih-chang said.
Logistics support for Taiwan's defense forces on the Pratas Islands and Taiping Island, the largest of the Spratly Islands, could also be affected by such a move, Chao said.
"Under these circumstances, it is advisable to maintain the status quo of our weapon deployment there," Chao said during a hearing in the legislative Foreign and National Defense Committee.
The committee was reviewing a proposal to deploy Chaparral or Tien Chien I missiles on the Taiwan-controlled Pratas and Taiping Island.
According to a written report compiled by the defense ministry, Taiwan once deployed two Chaparral missiles on the Pratas but they were pulled out in 2001 because of repair and maintenance difficulties.
Taiwan will face the same problem if it decides to redeploy missiles on the islands, the report said.
The Coast Guard has been responsible for defending the Pratas and Taiping Island since the marines were withdrawn in 1999 to ease tensions with other claimants.
However, legislators have been pushing the military to strengthen its presence in the region, and the committee froze a NT$200 million equipment acquisition budget for the MND, pending a report by the ministry on the missile deployment issue.
The committee released the budget Thursday following Chao's report, but demanded that the defense ministry complete installation of 40mm autocannons and 120mm mortars on Pratas and Taiping Island within six months.
Meanwhile, responding to a question by ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, Chao said the military will not rule out the possibility of dispatching ships to escort Taiwan's oil exploration vessels in the South China Sea when necessary.
(By Justin Su and Y.F. Low)