By Elaine Hou
Taipei, Oct. 26 (CNA) A national security official on Wednesday backed the idea of strengthening Taiwan’s defense capabilities in the South China Sea, an area beset by tensions because of competing claims of sovereignty over its small islands.
Tsai De-sheng, director-general of the National Security Bureau, said at a legislative hearing that Taiwan should upgrade its defensive capabilities on Taiping Island, the largest of the disputed Spratly Islands, and Pratas (Tungsha) Island in the South China Sea.
Coast Guard Administration personnel are currently deployed to protect the islands.
But the government announced in April that the forces on Taiping would be trained by the elite Marine Corps to carry out sea combat, giving Taiwan combat-ready troops in the region for the first time in more than a decade.
Aside from taking further action to strengthen its defense posture in the area, Tsai also advocated eliminating old equipment on the islands.
Tsai was responding to questions by Legislator Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang, who asked him whether Taiwan should increase its presence in the region as countries such as China and Vietnam strengthen their military deployments there.
To defend Taiwan’s sovereignty in the region, Lin said measures such as repositioning the country’s marine corps and deploying short-range missiles could be options.
But Tsai did not indicate whether he supported these actions.
Foreign Minister Timothy Yang voiced support last week for measures to safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty in the region, including deploying missiles and organizing a visit by lawmakers to demonstrate the country’s resolve to protect its territory.
According to the Republic of China’s Constitution, the country enjoys sovereignty over the Pratas, Spratly, and Paracel islands and Macclesfield Bank in the South China Sea.
The area, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.