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December, 6, 2016

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Taiping humanitarian drills draw to a close

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Cabinet Wednesday hailed humanitarian rescue drills on Taiping Island and waters off the Spratly Islands as a "success," while quashing speculation on cooperation in the region with mainland China.

The Nov. 29 drills were the first since Taiwan's claims to an exclusive economic zone around the South China Sea's Taiping Island were rejected by an international tribunal.

The July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague — which declared that Taiping was not an island — has been denounced by President Tsai Ing-wen's administration.

The drills come after Tsai announced her intention to develop Taiping into an international center for humanitarian aid and disaster relief at her first National Security Council meeting on July 19.

At a post-drill press conference Wednesday, Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung dismissed rumors that Taiwan could collaborate with mainland China in the South China Sea, saying "we conduct our own drills."

Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Minister Lee Chung-wei backed the Cabinet's position, describing reports the drills were timed to dovetail with exercises conducted by China as "false."

Lee said Taiwan's South China Sea claims were an "unquestionable truth."

"Our government's stance on the matter is firm," Hsu added, saying he considered Taiwan's claims to be lawful under the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Lee said the forces involved were all previously stationed on the island.

He added that patrol capabilities had been upgraded with the deployment of a 1,000-ton patrol vessel to relieve two 100-ton vessels that had been recalled to the Taiwanese mainland.

He denied that extra vessels, aircraft or manpower had been deployed to assist with the exercise, saying there was a need for agencies already stationed on the island to gauge their humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities.

"The president gave us (the CGA) a direction to proceed with," Lee added, referring to the four principles and five actions regarding Taiwan's stance on the South China Sea dispute given by the president.

No Longer Just a 'Drill'

The drills — codenamed "Nanyuan No. 1. (南援一號)," which translates as "assistance to the south" — involved the CGA, Navy, Air Force, Ministries of Transportation and Communications, and Health and Welfare.

The exercise was conducted as part of Tsai's policy of transforming Taiping Island into a base for the provision of humanitarian aid and logistical support.

Personnel involved were soon given a chance to demonstrate their response capabilities in a real-life setting, after a member of the press fell ill due to internal bleeding.

Officers on the island quickly carried out operations on the reporter to stabilize him, ticking off the "telemedicine and airlift" section of the drills.

The patient was transported to a hospital in Kaohsiung for treatment, where he is in a stable condition.

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