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Ma to visit Taiwan-controlled islet near Tiaoyutais

The Presidential Office yesterday confirmed that President Ma Ying-jeou will soon embark on an inspection tour to an islet located north of Taiwan near the disputed Tiaoyutai Islands amid the escalating East China Sea sovereignty row.

Ma's plan to visit Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼), one of the northernmost Taiwan-controlled islets, “is currently under careful planning,” the Presidential Office said in a statement.

The office said the plan has not yet been finalized and that Ma's itinerary for the trip will be released once all related arrangements have been made.

The upcoming visit to Pengjia, which is to take place “soon,” is part of the president's ongoing project to travel to all offshore islands and townships in Taiwan in his capacity as head of state, the Presidential Office said.

Ma has visited most of Taiwan's outlying islets during the past four years, but has yet to visit Pengjia, the office said.

The islet is located 56 kilometers northeast of Taiwan's northern city of Keelung. Currently under military control, it is the largest of the “Three Northern Isles,” (北方三島) which also include Mianhua Islet (棉花嶼) and Huaping Islet (花瓶嶼).

The Presidential Office's statement confirmed a report in the Chinese-language China Times yesterday, which quoted sources as saying that Ma will inspect the northern islet this coming Sunday.

Since the islet is the nearest Taiwan-controlled territory to the Tiaoyutais, Ma's upcoming tour has been widely seen as a move to assert the nation's sovereignty over the disputed island chain, the report said.

Ma will take a military helicopter to Pengjia to inspect the meteorological station and Coast Guard personnel stationed there. He will also be briefed by the military on the latest developments in the sovereignty row over the Tiaoyutais, the report said.

The Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard will closely guard Ma during the visit, the report quoted sources as saying.

Ministries Remain Silent

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has refused to comment on the president's soon-to-be-launched tour.

MOFA spokesman Steve Hsia, however, said he believes the trip, if realized, will not raise regional tensions or affect Taiwan-Japan ties, since Pengjia Islet is part of the Republic of China's territory.

Asked to comment on the same issue, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday said it will offer various kinds of protection for the president in accordance with arrangements made by the Presidential Office.

News of the trip comes at a sensitive moment after media reports said that the Japanese government has taken another step in its bid to nationalize the Tiaoyutais.

Tokyo officials reportedly plan to buy the island chain from a private owner in mid-September for 2.05 billion Japanese yen.

Located in the resource-rich East China Sea, the islands lie about 100 nautical miles off Taiwan's northeastern tip. Known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, the uninhabited cluster of islands is currently under Japanese control. Taiwan and mainland China, however, also claim sovereignty over them.

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