02 December 2015

Taiwan Announces Presidential Visit to Disputed South China Sea Island

TAIPEI – Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will visit the disputed Itu Aba Island in South China Sea on Dec. 12, to reaffirm Taiwanese sovereignty over the area and reiterate his peace initiative for the region, Taiwanese media reported Tuesday.

Apple Daily, Taiwan’s most circulated newspaper and which has no political leanings, citing unnamed sources from the National Security Bureau, reported the president will also inaugurate a new wharf on the island.

Presidential spokesperson Chen Yi-hsin did not rule out Ma’s visit but did not confirm it either. Ma’s predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, visited the Taiwan-controlled island in February 2008, but since then no other president has visited Itu Aba.

On Tuesday, Ma, during an informal interaction with reporters, refused to rule out a visit to Taiping Island (another name for Itu Aba), but said there was no date fixed as yet.

With an area of 0.49 square kilometers (0.19 sq miles), Taiping, where Taiwan maintains a garrison of coast guards, is the largest natural land mass in the Spratley Islands.

South China Sea, presumably rich in oil, natural gas and other marine resources, has been the scene of escalating territorial conflict between Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

The Taiwanese president proposed a peace initiative for the region in May, suggesting all concerned countries leave aside their territorial disputes and jointly develop the natural resources.

Tensions in the region have intensified in recent years with the construction of artificial islands by China and the sending of naval vessels by the United States to the disputed region.

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