Foreign media reporters given rare look at Taiwan's Taiping Island
Taipei, March 23 (CNA) The government on Wednesday took media workers from 10 foreign media outlets to a Taiwan-held Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea for the first time ever, hoping to buttress its case that it is an "island" under international law.
The reporters took a flight from the Songshan military base in Taipei along with local media workers to Pingtung County in southern Taiwan before heading on to Taiping Island (Itu Aba), where they were expected to arrive at about 11 a.m.
The journalists, representing CNN, Al-Jazeera TV, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters, Bloomberg, Kyodo News Agency and the Yomiuri Shimbun, were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to take part in the one-day trip.
They are being accompanied on the trip by Deputy Foreign Minister Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達), Presidential Office spokesman Charles Chen (陳以信) and Lin Chen-fu (林晨富), the deputy director of MOFA's Department of International Information Services.
The 0.51-square-kilometer Taiping Island, located about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung, is the largest naturally formed island in the Spratly Island archipelago, but questions have been raised recently about whether it in fact constitutes an "island."
The visiting reporters will tour the island for about three hours and see a farm, water wells, a hospital, solar generators, a wharf, and a temple dedicated to the goddess Guan Yin, according to the itinerary arranged by the MOFA.
The group will leave the islet at 2 p.m. and is expected to arrive back in Taipei at about 6:50 p.m. The reporters will be invited for a tea reception with President Ma Ying-jeou at the Songshan base at 7:10 p.m., the MOFA said.
The president visited the disputed island on Jan. 18 to counter the claim that Taiping Island -- which has been under the control of the Republic of China government since 1946 -- is only a reef under international law and not entitled to its own exclusive economic zone.
The claim may have been made by people who have never been to the island to see for themselves that it is in fact an island capable of sustaining human habitation, Ma said, explaining why Taiwan was eager to have foreign media visit the island.
A case pending in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague brought by the Philippines against China has triggered interest in how the land formations in the South China Sea should be defined.
Manila is hoping the court will rule that many of the formations claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea are reefs or rocks, entitled to no more than 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, rather than islands, which generate 200-nautical-mile economic zones.
Such a ruling would negate many of China's claims to fishing or resource rights in the region.
Taiwan has taken interest in the case because a lawyer for the Philippines argued as part of the case that Taiping was not an island but rather a rock that cannot support human habitation.
Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim all or part of the South China Sea and its waters, which are thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.
(By Hsieh Chia-chen and Elizabeth Hsu)ENDITEM/ls
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