Amid escalating sovereignty spats over the Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, Taiwan is studying the feasibility of setting up a supply base on one of its northernmost islets, which lies close to the disputed island chain, according to local media reports.
Pengjia Islet, reportedly being considered, is located just 33 nautical miles off Taiwan's northernmost tip and 76 nautical miles west of the disputed Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea.
Citing unnamed sources, the reports said President Ma Ying-jeou will take advantage of his upcoming visit to Pengjia to assess the feasibility of such a proposal.
President Ma is scheduled to make his first trip to the tiny islet Sept. 7.
Supporters of the idea said the establishment of a supply base there would allow refueling and supply of Taiwan warships in the event of a flare-up over the uninhabited island chain, which is believed to be sitting on top of rich oil and gas reserves.
Known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China, the Tiaoyutais are now controlled by Japan but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
The following are excerpts from local media coverage of Taiwan's resolve to ramp-up its claim to the Tiaoyutais:
Taiwan currently maintains weather observation and coast guard stopover facilities on Pengjia Islet. A lighthouse has been set up on the islet and eight Coast Guard Administration (CGA) staff members have been stationed there regularly. The isle is under administration of the Keelung City Government.
Due to its long distance from Taiwan proper and inadequate supply of water and electricity, the islet, however, has not yet been developed into a supply outpost.
The successive landings on some of the Tiaoyutai islets by Hong Kong activists and Japanese nationalists in recent weeks as well as the Japanese government's plan to nationalize the island chains have prompted relevant Taiwanese government agencies to consider setting up a supply base on Pengjia Islet.
In preparation for Ma's inspection tour of the isle, people familiar with the matter said the CGA has strengthened patrols and security measures in the region to ensure the president's safety.
They also revealed that the CGA dispatched patrol ships to monitor the recent voyage of Hong Kong activists to the Tiaoyutais. Due to long distance between the disputed island cluster and Taiwan proper, some CGA officers were quoted as having complained that their mission was affected to some extent by difficulties in getting supply.
It would be easier for CGA personnel to get drinking water, foods and refueling services if a supply base is set up in Pengjia Islet, the sources said. (Sept. 5, 2012).
United Daily News:
Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng said Tuesday that Ma's trip to Pengjia Islet is not expected to cause any controversy because it is part of Taiwan's territory.
Waters surrounding the Pengjia Islet are economically and strategically important, local scholars said. The area is one of the world's four largest fishing grounds and sits only 140 kilometers west of the disputed Tiaoyutais.
Pengjia is one of Taiwan's three northernmost islets. The other two are Mienhua Islet and Huaping Islet, both of which are designated as wildlife protection areas. None of the three isles are accessible to ordinary citizens. Visits to either of them require prior approval.
Taiwanese people are generally unfamiliar with the three islets.
Due to overfishing and frequent poaching by mainland Chinese fishermen, marine resources and ecology in the region face serious threats, some local oceanographers suggested that the area be designated a national ocean park to better protect its resources.
They also urged the government to encourage academic research of the three islets to enhance local people's understanding of their strategic locations, natural environment and diverse marine resources. (Sept. 5, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)