Runway upgrade at Taiwan-held South China Sea island back on track

04/12/2021 04:46 PM
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Dongsha Islands. CNA file photo
Dongsha Islands. CNA file photo

Taipei, April 12 (CNA) A long-stalled runway upgrade project on a Taiwan-held island in the South China Sea has finally begun despite rising military threats from China and should be completed by February 2022, a Ministry of National Defense (MND) report said Monday.

The MND originally found a contractor for the project involving the airport of the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands, on Feb. 25, 2020, and construction was supposed to begin on April 6 that year, said the report, which was sent to lawmakers for review.

Regional tensions and poor weather conditions prevented any progress from being made for nearly a year, however, but the contractor recently began work on the runway upgrade, and it is expected to be completed in February 2022.

The MND did not provide any further details on the project, saying only that once completed, the runway can be used to "rapidly transport military assets to support the nation's armed forces."

The airport is mainly used for military purposes, handling regular military C-130 transport plane flights. Private airline Uni Air also flies there once a week from Kaohsiung, but the service is only for Coast Guard Administration (CGA) staff stationed on the island.

Meanwhile, the same MND report said Taiwan will soon deploy 292 Kestrel anti-armor rockets on the two territories it controls in the South China Sea -- the Pratas Islands and Taiping Island -- to beef up their defense amid Beijing's increasing military incursions in the region.

The Kestrel anti-armor rocket, developed by the military's top research unit, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), is an individual shoulder-launched weapon for anti-armor and concrete penetration.

The MND's report was released after Chinese drones were spotted near the Dongsha Islands at a time when People's Liberation Army aircraft fly through Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) near the Pratas Islands on almost a daily basis, which Taiwan sees as a provocation.

The Pratas Islands lie 450 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung while Taiping Island lies 1,600 km southwest of Kaohsiung.

At present, the two locations are manned by CGA personnel trained by Taiwan's Marine Corps, but the MND said last year that it would temporarily post marines on the Pratas Islands amid reports the Chinese military planned to conduct drills in the area.

The military never revealed other details, such as the number of Marines deployed, when they arrived on the islands, or how long they would stay.

Taiwan, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim all or part of the South China Sea region as their territory.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

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