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May 30, 2017

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Lawmakers visit Dongsha Islands to highlight Taiwan sovereignty claims

TAIPEI -- Seven legislators from across the political spectrum flew to Dongsha Islands in the South China Sea yesterday as part of efforts to highlight Taiwan's sovereignty amid growing tensions in the disputed area.

The trip came on the heels of a visit in late April by several other lawmakers to Taiping Island, the main island of another Taiwan-controlled archipelago in the region for a similar purpose.

The latest trip is being led by opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Tan-sun, a co-convener of the Legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee.

The other members of the group are DPP lawmakers Tsai Huang-liang, Hsueh Ling and Hsiao Bi-khim, as well as their ruling Kuomintang colleagues Chan Kai-chin and Chen Chen-hsiang, and opposition People First Party lawmaker Chang Show-foong.

Chang said prior to the group's departure from Taipei International Airport that she is very pleased to join the group on the tour of the Dongsha Islands, also known as the Pratas, which is located some 450 km off Taiwan's southwestern coast.

"This is my first trip to Dongsha and I hope to look into the ecological and fishery protection measures in place there," Chang said.

For his part, Tsai said both Dongsha and Taiping are Taiwan's inherent territories.

"As tensions in the South China Sea have been escalating recently, we want to reassert our country's claim to the region through our visit," Tsai said, adding that the group will also help boost the morale of military and coast guard personnel stationed on the islands.

The South China Sea is seen as a flashpoint because Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim all or part of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer area, which includes the Spratly, Paracel and Pratas islands, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal.

A standoff between armed Chinese and Philippine vessels has continued since April 10 near the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyen Island in Mandarin Chinese, over conflicting sovereignty claims.

Taiwan controls Dongsha, the largest island in the South China Sea, as well as Taiping Island, the largest island in the Spratlys.

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