Taipei Times reports on planned exercise on Taiping Island (太平島) scheduled for the beginning of September. Defense of Taiping, the largest island in highly contested area of Spratly Islands, has been recently reinforced by 120mm mortars and 40mm air-defense guns. Taipei’s decision comes after series of concerning events, including Filippino-Chinese standoff over Scarborough Shoal, China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s decision to open nine blocks in close proximity to Veitnam and well within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to bidding to foreign companies interested in oil and gas explorations, or China’s decision to elevate Sansha city in Paracels to prefecture level and to deploy military garrison there.
Taiwan belongs to the group of claimants in the South China Sea and maintains regular garrison on Taiping since 1950s which makes it the earliest occupant in the area consisting of hundreds of mostly uninhabitable islands, islets, reefs, etc. Together with China, it claims the whole area of South China Sea that apart from Spratly Islands includes Paracel Islands (occupied by China since 1974), Pratas Islands (held by Taiwan) and Macclesfield Bank. Chinese/Taiwanese claim is delimited by so called “9-dash line” or “U-shaped line”. However, the nature of the claim remains to be disputed, some arguing that it covers both sea and islands, others that it is sovereignty claim over the islands and adjacent waters only. Besides China and Taiwan, Vietnam claims significant portion of South China Sea (all three base their claims on historical records) whereas Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei limit their claims to provisions of UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
South China Sea have witnessed clashes and standoffs since 1970s, however, disputes have intensified after May 2009 when China attached “9-dash line” map to its note verbale to UN in rejection of joint Malaysia-Vietnam submission of claim to Committee on the Limits of Continental Shelf. This was the first time this map has ever been used in official communication to reiterate Chinese claim over South China Sea.
South China Sea is crucial route for seaborne international trade, significant source for fishing and suspected to hold large deposits of hydrocarbon resources.
See CNAS’ timeline for South China Sea for more information.