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September 23, 2017

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Military to follow policies on Spratlys deployment

TAIPEI--The military will follow national policies and instructions outlined by the National Security Council on whether to redeploy Taiwan's Marine Corps on Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea, an official said yesterday.

"We will follow national policies (on the issue)," Ministry of National Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he said at a news conference in response to a question on lawmakers' calls for the redeployment of marines on Taiping to reinforce Taiwan's defense there.

On Aug. 31, National Security Council Secretary General Hu Wei-chen visited the island with a group of senior government officials to assert Taiwan's territorial claim, but he did not comment on whether the government will redeploy marines there.

Coast Guard Administration (CGA) personnel have been responsible for defending Taiping, one of the Spratly Islands, since 2000, after the government decided to withdraw marines stationed on the island to reduce tensions in the region.

However, amid the escalating territorial claims over the South China Sea, there have been calls in Taiwan that the government should redeploy marines there.

Legislator Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang, who led a group of lawmakers to visit Taiping Tuesday to watch a live-fire drill conducted by coast guards stationed there, said the government should mull the possibility of again posting marines to protect Taiping.

Echoing Lin's remarks, Legislator Chen Ting-fei of the major opposition Democratic Progressive Party, also on the visit to Taiping, said she hoped the defense ministry will give priority to the issue of redeploying marines on the island.

Tuesday's drill on Taiping included the firing of machine guns and 81-mm mortars.

Last month, the defense ministry shipped 40-mm anti-aircraft guns and 120-mm mortars to the island to beef up defense there but those weapons were not used in the drill as the CGA personnel are undergoing training on how to operate them.

With an area of 0.49 square kilometers, Taiping is the largest of the Spratlys, which lie about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

The South China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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