Taiwan plans to improve track on disputed island — Radio Free Asia

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Taiwan’s military plans to extend a runway on a disputed island in the South China Sea to accommodate fighter jets, local media reported on Monday, likely sparking protests from other claimants.

The Taiwanese government has already pushed back against suggestions that it might militarize Taiping Island. The Taiwan Air Force declined to comment on the report on Monday.

Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, is the largest natural feature in the Spratly Islands. It is currently occupied by Taiwan but is also claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

United Daily Newsa conservative Taiwan newspaper, quoted an unnamed source as saying the military plans to complete another round of renovations at Taiping this year, with a 350-meter extension of the existing 1,150-meter-long airstrip .

A 1,500 meter runway could accommodate F-16 jet fighters and P-3C anti-submarine aircraft.

Air Force spokesman Chen Guo-hua told RFA Mandarin Service he was unaware of the media reports and had no comment.

If confirmed, the news could provoke strong reactions from other claimants on the island.

In March, Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-Cheng said Taiwan had no intention of militarizing Taiping despite reports that China had completed construction of military facilities on three nearby man-made islands. .

Runway extension

Taiwanese the media had reported in the past on proposed plans to develop infrastructure on Taiping Island, including the extension of the runway.

The plans have been criticized by the Philippines and Vietnam as stoking tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

Taiping is located in the northwestern part of the Spratly Islands, 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from Taiwan and 853 kilometers (530 miles) from the Philippines. It is under the administration of Kaohsiung Municipality.

It has been under Taiwan’s control since 1956, but the current runway was not built until 2008. According to a report on the website of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Beijing sees Taiwan’s development work on Taiping Island as a long-term strategic asset.”

“China regards Taiwan as part of China, and the runway or piers built on Taiping Island may be used by mainland China in the future after the two sides reunify,” he said.

The international tribunal in the case brought against China by the Philippines in 2016, however, ruled that Taiping is a “rock” within the meaning of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and is therefore not entitled to an area exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf.

Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China rejected this decision.

Mandarin journalist FRG Xia Xiao-hua in Taipei contributed to this report.

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