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June 27, 2017

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Taiwan sends equipment to build S. China Sea island pier

TAIPEI--Heavy machinery from Taiwan meant for use in building a pier has landed on Taiping Island (太平島), in a show of sovereignty over the largest of the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, a lawmaker from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) said Tuesday.

Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said in a statement that a fleet comprising six ships brought the equipment to the island, located nearly 1,500 km southwest of Taiwan proper's most southern point, on May 18.

The move came at the height of escalated tensions in the South China Sea region after China and Vietnam became involved in a series of potentially explosive confrontations over the disputed waters earlier in May, leading to an eruption of anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam May 13 that hit Taiwan-invested business in the country hard.

The arrival of the heavy machinery means that plans to build a new pier on the Taiwan-controlled island have moved beyond the paperwork stage and work has officially commenced, Lin said.

The pier is expected to be completed by the end of 2015, Lin said, explaining that the ability to dock 3,000-ton naval frigates and coastguard cutters on the island will enhance Taiwan's defensive capabilities in the South China Sea.

It will also allow docking for other ships, turning Taiping into a base for protecting deep-sea fishing boats, marine research vessels and resources exploration ships in the area.

The machinery delivered includes cranes and excavators. It was carried on several unpowered ships propelled by tugboats.

To protect the fleet's safety, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration and the Navy deployed six frigates and sent scores of special forces soldiers to accompany it on the journey, according to Lin.

Taiping island, also referred to as Itu Aba, is the only landmass in the Spratly chain that has fresh water. It has been administered by the Taiwanese government since the 1970s but is also claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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