Taiwan is considering permanently stationing military ships on one of the Spratly Islands that it controls, where it is constructing a large port. Reuters reports:
Itu Aba, also known as Tai Ping, is the only island in the Spratlys large enough to accommodate a port—currently under construction. Taiwan had previously said the port, expected to be completed in late 2015, would allow 3,000-tonne naval frigates and coastguard cutters to dock there.Officials at Taiwan’s Coast Guard, which administers Itu Aba, and Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, which stations troops there, said the port could become the permanent home of armed vessels. […]Shih Yi-che, head of communications at Taiwan’s Coast Guard, said: “The purpose of this action would be to promulgate the Republic of China’s sovereignty and power in defending our territory around Tai Ping Island.”
Needless to say, China and the other South China Sea claimants are not enthused about this possibility:
Taiwan ships on permanent call in the Spratlys would represent a new headache for Communist Party rulers in Beijing as they grapple with weeks-long pro-democracy protests in southern Hong Kong and face separatist calls in far-western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.Itu Aba is Taiwan’s only holding in the disputed region, but it boasts the larger of two landing strips in the archipelago and is the only island with its own fresh water supply, making a long-term presence possible.“It reinforces the trend of increased para-military activity across the South China Sea,” Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, said of Taiwan’s plan.“I would fully expect we’ll see Vietnam make some kind of pro-forma protest, followed by the Philippines.”
One possible reason for the timing of Taiwan’s brazen plan may be China’s weakened ability to exert control due to the political crisis in Hong Kong. Whatever the reason for Taiwan’s action, amid the ongoing dramas playing out in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, it is important to remember that the dangerous game of thrones in Asia is still being played in the waters of the coastal Pacific.