The weapons recently deployed on Taiping Island will help Taiwan safeguard its territory amid escalating territorial claims over the South China Sea, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday shortly after a visit to the island.
The 120-mm mortars delivered to Taiping by the country's Ministry of National Defense in August have a range of 6,100 meters, which is enough to cover the restricted waters outlined by Taiwan near the island, Lin Yu-fang said in a statement released following his visit.
As a deterrent, the mortars will also help protect another Taiwan-controlled territory, Ban Than Reef, which is 5,580 meters away from Taiping, the statement said.
Earlier in the day, Lin led a group of three lawmakers to visit Taiping, the largest of the Spratly islands, to observe a live fire training drill conducted by Coast Guard Administration personnel stationed there and also inspect weapons installations.
Included in the drill was the firing of machine guns and 81-mm mortars, which have a range of some 3,400 meters, according to the statement.
The newly arrived weapons, the 120-mm mortars and 40-mm anti-aircraft guns, were not used in the drill. The coast guard personnel are still undergoing training on how to operate the weapons.
Tuesday's drill was opened to the media for the first time since the government stationed marines on the island in 1956, according to the coast guard. Marines were later replaced by coast guards in 2000 to reduce tensions in the region.
The live fire drill drew concern from the Philippines, which called for no action that will intensify tensions in the region.
Amid calls for President Ma Ying-jeou to visit Taiping, Lin said at a news conference after his return from Taiping that it is unnecessary for Ma to visit there to claim Taiwan's sovereignty over the island as Taiping is already part of the country's territory. What is needed is a strengthening of Taiwan's management over the island, Lin said.
Lin also said that a code of conduct proposed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to manage territorial disputes in the South China Sea will lose its purpose if Taiwan is not included in the discussion.
In addition, he said that CPC Corp, Taiwan could explore oil and natural gas on Taiping Island and that if necessary, the state-run oil company can cooperate with other foreign companies. The oil company dug a well for oil exploitation on Taiping in 1971, according to the lawmakers who visited Taiping.
With an area of 0.49 square kilometers, Taiping is the largest of the Spratlys, which lie about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The South China Sea region, thought to be rich in oil deposits and marine biodiversity, is claimed either entirely or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines