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June 24, 2017

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Taiwan gov't to monitor Chinese construction on disputed island

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- After reports of fresh construction by China on a disputed island in the South China Sea, the Presidential Office Wednesday urged all parties in the region to uphold peace and stability.

The government said it would continue to monitor developments, following the release by Reuters of satellite images showing new structures being built on the Chinese-controlled North Island, part of Paracel island group.

An image provided by private satellite firm Planet Labs and taken on March 6 shows land clearing and possible preparation for a harbor on North Island.

Experts cited by Reuters suggested the new structures could be used to support military installations.

Initial work on the island was damaged by a typhoon last year.

Military experts cited by Reuters said the work showed China's determination "to build up its network of reefs and islets," while the Chinese government simultaneously looks to avoid a confrontation with the new U.S. President Donald Trump administration.

The release of the images comes at a time of increased tension in the South China Sea.

On Tuesday, Vietnam — which maintains several overlapping claims with Taiwan and China in the Paracels — demanded that China stop sending cruise ships to the South China Sea.

Reports the same day also suggested that Japan was contemplating sending its largest warship to the area for joint exercises with the U.S.' navy.

Beijing said it had raised the matter with Tokyo but added it was still awaiting an official response.

Huang Kwei-bo, an associate professor at National Chengchi University and a South China Sea researcher, told The China Post that it was impossible to rule out that the construction was a response towards the U.S.' recent comments or actions in the South China Sea, but suggested that the building had already been planned in advance.

The U.S. navy last month deployed an aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to patrol the disputed waters.

As for Taiwan, Huang said the government was currently adopting a passive approach to pursuing its South China Sea claims, and thus he believed the government would seek to downplay the latest revelations.

China's activities in the Paracels were already something that Taiwan was unable to control or intervene in, and therefore would unlikely have an impact on cross-strait relations. Huang added.

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