Vietnam, RP concerned over Spratlys

Thursday, January 31, 2008CNA
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Representatives of the Philippines and Vietnam in Taiwan expressed concerns yesterday over Taiwan's construction of a runway in the disputed Spratly Islands, as well as the reported planned visit there by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian.

"We were always concerned about the sovereignty issue of the Spratly Islands. And we condemn any action that violates the sovereignty of Vietnam," said Pham Manh Hai, deputy head of the Vietnam Economic and Cultural Office (VECO) in Taipei.

He was speaking amid local reports of a planned visit by Chen to the Spratlys' Taiping Island, known internationally as Itu Aba island, where the runway was built. The visit will happen as early as this weekend, Taiwanese reports said.

"We didn't want the situation to escalate into something that might generate tensions in the region," said Antonio Basilio, Representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei. He added: "We don't want to make it an issue now."

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines all claim sovereignty over all or parts of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The area around the island chain are believed to be rich in oil resources.

Chen's planned visit, if realized, would be the first-ever inspection of the Spratlys by Chen or any Taiwanese leader in recent memory.

Minister of National Defense Lee Tien-yu said Tuesday that construction of a 1,150-meter long runway on Taiping Island, which Taiwan considers its southernmost inhabited territory, has been completed and the military will make necessary preparation if President Chen wants to visit the island.

Lee refused to confirm or deny the reports about a possible visit by Chen.
While the Philippines respects Taiwan's right to say the islands are part of its territory, Basilio said, he cautioned that a visit "might provoke some reactions from other claimants."
Basilio said his office has not received any request of a clearance of flight for the Manila FIR (flight information region). Taiwan's United Daily News reported that Taiwan's military was granted approval from the Manila FIR for a flight to Taiping Island.

"Nothing came to our office," Basilio said, adding that "no such request has been made to us or my counterparts in Manila, your (Taiwan) office in Manila."

Meanwhile, Nguyen Ba Cu, the head of Vietnam's representative office in Taiwan, met with officials of Taiwan's foreign ministry Tuesday and expressed concerns.

The office has also conveyed the information to the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, which will be responsible for making all official statements, Pham said.

The Vietnamese foreign ministry last Thursday issued a protest over a visit by Taiwan's C-130 transport plane to Taiping Island recently.


Taiwan leader risks regional anger with flight to Spratly Islands

Taipei - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is expected to board a military plane to the disputed Spratly Islands later this week, in a planned inspection almost certain to provoke tensions in the region, local news media reported Wednesday. "If the weather condition is fine, President Chen is expected to take the flight this weekend," the United Daily News quoted an unnamed military source as saying.

The report said Taiwanese naval vessels were standing by to escort Chen in his first-ever inspection of the Spratlys, a chain of atolls in the South China Sea claimed by six countries in the region.

Both Taiwan's Presidential Office and the Defense Ministry refused to confirm or deny the report, but the military stressed there is nothing wrong for Chen, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to inspect Taiwanese troops, including those garrisoned on the disputed island chain.

Defense Minister Lee Tien-yu has said he would accompany Chen in the inspection trip if "the president decides to go there."

The military spokesman's office Wednesday said: "So far we have yet to receive any notice from the Presidential Office."

The office declined to reveal further details, including whether Taiwan has already obtained permission from the Philippines for the Taiwanese military plane to pass through its information zone as Chen's planned flight needs to go through that area.

The Taiwanese military, which has garrisoned troops on Taiping, the largest of the Spratly chain, recently completed an airstrip there to facilitate air transport between Taiwan and the politically sensitive archipelago. It sent an air force C-130 cargo plane for test run of the 1,150 metre runway.

The move immediately drew protest from Vietnam, which in a statement earlier this month, said it "resolutely opposes all acts violating the sovereignty of Vietnam over the archipelagos" and demanded Taiwan stop similar actions in the region.

Vietnam, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each claim all or part of the Spratlys and the nearby Paracels, and all but Brunei have a military presence on one or more of the atolls. The waters around the island are believed to contain substantial petroleum reserves.


Taiwan president's Spratlys visit to stir up protest

31 January 2008

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian plans to visit the disputed Spratly Islands, amid revelations Taiwan staged a clandestine test flight on its newly finished runway on Spratly's Taiping Island.

Radio Australia's Joanna McCarthy reports the move sure to provoke protest from the other countries with claims over the oil-rich islands.They include not only Taiwan's arch-rival China, but also Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Secretary general of the Chinese Council for Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan, Dr Andrew Yang, has told the the Connect Asia program that President Chen's move provides him with the opportunity to flex his political muscle before leaving office.

"He wants to demonstrate that he's very much in control of leadership and the position," he said."In a way he also wants to emphasise approach for holding up the determination to protect the sovereignty of Taiwan including the Spratly islands.

"The rivalry over the Spratly islands came to light in the 1980s and early 1990s. But the situation has been improving since then and in 2002, China and ASEAN nations signed an agreement to resolve the dispute without use of force.



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