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Taiwan to conduct live-fire Taiping Island drill in Sept.

TAIPEI -- Taiwan has informed its neighboring countries that it plans to conduct a live-fire training exercise on Taiping Island in the South China Sea early next month, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman Steve Hsia confirmed yesterday.

It will be a routine drill, Hsia said, confirming local media reports that the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) is scheduled to carry out a live-fire exercise Sept. 1-5 on Taiping Island to reinforce Taiwan's claim to the South China Sea area and the island chains there.

The foreign ministry has informed neighboring countries of the plan, in line with international practice, Hsia said.

"It means those countries will be able to warn their ships to avoid the waters near Taiping Island during the exercise," he said.

Guns and Mortars

The Ministry of National Defense delivered a shipment of 40-mm anti-aircraft guns and 120-mm mortars to Taiping Island earlier this month to help the CGA reinforce defenses there amid escalating territorial disputes in the region.

While installation of the new weapons has since begun, they will not be used in the upcoming drill, officials familiar with the matter said.

Meanwhile, ruling and opposition lawmakers will embark on an inspection tour of the remote island in the first half of September, the officials said.

Covering an area of 0.49 square kilometers, Taiping Island lies about 1,600 km southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. It is the largest of the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea.

Vietnam's Protest

In the dispute over the territorial claims to the area, Vietnam recently protested against Taiwan's defense reinforcement on Taiping, saying that the move was an encroachment on its sovereignty over the Spratlys.

However, the MOFA said Vietnam's protest was unjustified because Taiping Island has long been under Taiwan's effective control and management.

"Our sovereignty over the island is undisputable and all of our activities and deployments on the island are legal and will never cause regional tensions," the MOFA said in a recent statement.

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

Besides Taiping Island, Taiwan also controls the Pratas, better known as Dongsha in Mandarin Chinese, which is the largest island chain in the South China Sea.

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