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Lawmakers ask president to mull tour of South China Sea

2012/05/09 19:21:58

Taipei, May 9 (CNA) Lawmakers passed a proposal Wednesday asking President Ma Ying-jeou to mull the possibility of inspecting Taiwan-controlled islands in the South China Sea to assert the country's sovereignty amid growing tensions in the disputed region.

The proposal said the Ministry of National Defense should recommend that Ma "consider visiting Taiping Island and Dongsha Island at an appropriate time" as part of efforts to safeguard Taiwan's territory.

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.

Local media also reported that armed Vietnamese patrol ships twice entered restricted Republic of China-claimed waters near Taiping Island in late March.

The president's visit to the disputed islands in the coming days would "help safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty," DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang told the Legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

Ma should follow the example of former President Chen Shui-bian, Tsai added. Chen visited Taiping Island in February 2008 when he was president, where he inaugurated an airstrip and reiterated Taiwan's sovereignty over the region.

Ruling Kuomintang lawmakers, however, expressed concern that a visit to the disputed areas by the president would be too dangerous at the present time.

KMT Legislator Chen Chen-hsiang, who described the former president's visit to Taiping as "stupid and foolhardy," crossed swords with Tsai over the issue.

After their quarrel, the lawmakers agreed to modify the DPP proposal which called for the president to visit Taiping and Dongsha islands in the coming days.

That version was later revised at the legislative committee meeting, which substituted "at an appropriate time" for the DPP-proposed "in the coming days."

In addition, a group of seven lawmakers from across party lines was scheduled to visit Dongsha Island the following day as a gesture of support for Taiwan's sovereignty.

In late April, three KMT lawmakers also paid an inspection visit to Taiping Island.

Dongsha Island, also known as Pratas, is located 450 km off Taiwan's southwestern coast, while Taiping Island is the largest of the Spratly Islands and lies around 1,600 km southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

The South China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

(By Elaine Hou)