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Legislators inspect drill on Taiping

Lawmakers yesterday took an inspection trip to the nation's island territory in the South China Sea for a live-fire drill held on Taiping Island, as a concrete move to assert the country's claims in the region, amid escalating sovereignty disputes.

The legislative delegation led by ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who concurrently serves as convener of the Legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee, was joined by KMT Legislator Chen Chen-Hsiang (陳鎮湘) and Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The group, accompanied by senior heads of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and Coast Guard Administration (CGA), arrived at Taiping Island on a C-130 military transportation plane at around 10 a.m. yesterday.

During their visit, which lasted only a few hours, the trio of lawmakers observed the live-fire drill featuring armaments used by CGA personnel stationed at the island, including 81 mm mortars, 20 mm autocannons, 40 mm grenades and T75 light machine guns.

The drill, however, did not feature the eight sets of 40 mm autocannons and a number of 120 mm mortars that were recently shipped to the island to beef up its defenses.

The new weapons were not incorporated into the drill because members of the Coast Guard force on the island are still familiarizing themselves with the new armaments, according to the military.

This is the second time in recent months that Taiwanese lawmakers have inspected the 0.49-square-kilometer island, the largest in the Spratly Island group, which lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan.

Lin last visited Taiping with two other KMT colleagues in late April to assert Taiwan's sovereignty amid escalating territorial disputes in the region. After that tour, Lin proposed that more defensive weapons be sent to the island to bolster its defenses. Following a demand from lawmakers, the MND later delivered 40 mm anti-aircraft guns and 120 mm mortars to Taiping in August.

Anti-tank Weapons Deployed in Taiping: Report

 Taiwan's military has also recently sent a number of AT4 anti-tank weapons to Taiping as part of efforts to reinforce its defenses, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported yesterday. The move comes despite Vietnam's repeated protests that doing so would encroach on its sovereignty and fuel tension in the region.

Taiwan, mainland China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all claim total or partial sovereignty over the South China Sea.

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

Taiwan's Coast Guard has had personnel stationed on Taiping since the R.O.C. Marines pulled out in 1999. Coast Guardsmen are given extensive training before being sent to the disputed island.

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Military personnel operate a Bofors 40 mm gun in a live-fire drill on Taiping Island, yesterday. Lawmakers took an inspection trip to the nation's island territory in the South China Sea for the drill. (CNA)

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