On Saturday, Taiwan’s Coast Guard commissioned for duty two 3,000-ton patrol ships that are going to be the largest among its current fleet. The move derives from concerns regarding the growing footprint of China in the disputed South China Sea.
The brand new ships are going to be able to dock at an all new port that is currently under construction on the 46-ha (114-acre) Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba), which happens to be the biggest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands, situated in the South China Sea. According to schedule, the port should be completed by this year’s end.
The Coast Guard of Taiwan has had direct oversight of the island since the year 2000.
In reference to the upgrade procedures that are being carried out on the 1,200-metre (yards) long Taiping airstrip and the construction of the new port, Wang Chung-yi, Coast Guard Administration Minister commented that the defense capabilities of Taiping Island will by no means be weak and added that all above-mentioned procedures are to be finished as early as October of this year.
“Taiping Island still maintains a civil role rather than a military one and will not contribute for the creating of conflict but if we are to be provoked we shall not stand aside and simply comply,” Wang said in an interview with Reuters in Taipei.
Taiwan, unlike Vietnam and the Philippines, has mainly opted to avoid taking part in any public disputes with China regarding the South China Sea, which is responsible for the passage of ship-borne trade in the rough amount of $5 trillion on a yearly basis.
Beijing has issued claims for the major part of the South China Sea, while Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam have also came out with claims of their own.
The rival claims of China and respectively Taiwan date all the way back to before defeated Nationalists decided to flee to Taiwan after having lost a civil war with the Communists back in the year 1949.
Beijing regards the self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province that is to be one day retaken and thus bans all actions related to a possible state of sovereignty, like territorial dispute negotiations in the South China Sea.
On Saturday, Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan, went aboard one of the two new vessels and observed rescue drills that were carried out near the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung.
Plans are for one of the ships to be assigned to the South China Sea, whilst the other will be appointed to Taiwan’s north waters where the country’s claims overlap with those of Japan.
On Saturday, the Japanese Yomiuri newspaper reported that the Group of Seven leaders meeting scheduled to take place in Germany on the following day would voice their concerns regarding any unilateral action aimed at changing the current status quo in the South and East China Seas.
China has been the object of heavy criticism related to the country’s extensive reclamation work and efforts of turning submerged rocks into man-made structures. Last week, the U.S. came out and reported that Beijing had positioned mobile artillery systems in territory that is the matter of dispute.