Taiwan leader defends disputed island visit after US criticism

Taiwan leader defends disputed island visit after US criticism

TAIPEI – Agence France-Presse
Taiwan leader defends disputed island visit after US criticism

AFP photo

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou defended his visit to a disputed island in the South China Sea on Jan. 28 despite criticism from the United States and protests from the other claimants as tensions swirl in the region.

Taipei insists Taiping Island in the Spratlys is part of its territory, but the chain is also claimed in part or whole by Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

“We have the same general direction as the U.S. and I don’t see how my visit will heighten tension. I didn’t go there to scold other countries,” he told reporters on his return to Taipei on Jan. 28, brushing aside rebukes from rival claimants.  “We all hope for peace, hope there is no conflict or war.”

The purpose of the trip was to visit Taiwanese personnel stationed there ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, according to the presidential office, and Ma said the United States had been notified of the trip in advance.

“In the South China Sea if any country takes any action, many countries will protest and we will keep monitoring... I really can’t see what they are protesting against,” he said.

In a speech earlier in the day on Taiping, Ma said the islands were “an inherent part of the Republic of China”, using Taiwan’s official title. “This is indisputable,” he added.

Taiwan has been boosting its presence on the island, inaugurating a solar-powered lighthouse, and expanding an airstrip and a pier late last year.

But Washington, which has said it does not want to see an escalation of tensions in the region, said ahead of Ma’s trip it was “extremely unhelpful,” saying it would “not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea.”