Taiwan's president calls for peace during visit of contentious South China Sea island

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan's president, defying a rare dose of criticism from key ally the United States, visited an island in the disputed South China Sea on Thursday and called for peaceful development in the increasingly tense region.

See Full Article

Accompanied by about 30 staff members, Ma Ying-jeou left the capital Taipei early in the morning aboard an air force C-130 cargo plane bound for Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba.

Taiping lies in the Spratly island group, an area where Taiwan shares overlapping claims with China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The city state of Brunei also claims a part of the South China Sea.

After arriving, Ma spoke at a national monument on the islet and reiterated his call made last year for peaceful coexistence and joint development. He cited infrastructure developments on the islet, including a 10-bed hospital and a lighthouse, saying they reinforced Taiwan's claim of sovereignty and granted it rights over the surrounding waters.

Taiwan is spending more than $100 million to upgrade the island's airstrip and build a wharf capable of allowing its 3,000-ton coast guard cutters to dock.

"All this evidence fully demonstrates that Taiping Island is able to sustain human habitation and an economic life of its own. Taiping Island is categorically not a rock, but an island," Ma said.

Roughly 2,000 kilometres south of Taiwan and 46 hectares in size, Taiping is the largest naturally occurring island in the area.

It has recently been eclipsed in size, however, by man-made islands created by China out of reefs and shoals. China has built housing, ports, airstrips and other infrastructure on the newly created islands, drawing accusations from the U.S. and others that it is exacerbating tensions in the strategically vital region.

Taiwan stations about 200 coast guard personnel, scientists and medical workers on Taiping. It occupies a number of other islets in the South China Sea, including the Pratas island group to the north.

There was no immediate response to Ma's visit from China, although a spokesman for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday repeated Beijing's claim to "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Sea islands.

"Safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity and the overall interests of the Chinese nation are the common responsibility and obligation of compatriots on both sides" of the Taiwan Strait, Ma Xiaoguang said at a biweekly news briefing.

The Philippines, which occupies a string of islands and reefs near the island Ma will visit, expressed its concern over the trip.

"We remind all parties concerned of our shared responsibility to refrain from actions that can increase tension in the South China Sea," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in Manila.

Coming near the end of his eight years in office, Ma's visit is the second by a Taiwanese leader and aims to emphasize Taiwan's sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Former president Chen Shui-bian visited in 2008 when he delivered a similar message.

Ma, who has been criticized at home as weak on foreign policy, must step down in May due to term limits and analysts said he considers the island visit a capstone to his time in office. Opposition party president-elect Tsai Ing-wen declined an invitation to go on the trip.

"President Ma...views advancing (Taiwan's) maritime interests as part of his legacy," said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington. "His visit to Taiping will further incite nationalistic fervour in the claimant countries and increase tensions."

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that the United States was disappointed by Ma's trip, saying it could exacerbate tensions, and renewed a call for dialogue between parties to the dispute.

"President Ma Ying-jeou has every right to make his position clear on the South China Sea. We just disagree with this particular action. We view it as, frankly, as raising tensions rather than what we want to see, which is de-escalation," Toner said.

During a visit to Beijing on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged all parties in the South China Sea to clarify their territorial claims, exercise restraint and engage in negotiations on the basis of international law.

The U.S. takes no position on who owns the islands, but says developments in the South China Sea are a matter of national security. The sea is home to key shipping lanes as well as important fisheries and a possible wealth of oil and natural gas reserves.

Tensions have been especially high since Beijing transformed seven disputed reefs into islands. The U.S. says the new islands don't enjoy the status of sovereign territory and sent a guided-missile destroyer close to one of them, called Subi Reef, in October in a challenge to Beijing's territorial claims, sparking warnings from China.

-----

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Canadian describes harrowing tale of Dominica destruction in Hurricane Maria aftermath

    World News CTV News
    It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria pummelled Dominica, and Patrick Mullins still vividly remembers his experience on the ground as the powerful storm tore through the Caribbean island. The 67 -year-old Ontario resident was in Dominica working on a project with local youth when Maria made landfall. Source
  • Paralympian sues University of Regina over accident that left her a quadriplegic

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- A Paralympian who was left paralyzed after a diving accident says she knew the injury was bad the moment it happened. Miranda Biletski testified Monday in Court of Queen's Bench in Regina, where she is suing the University of Regina for negligence. Source
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rejects call for anti-corruption court

    World News CBC News
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says judicial reform aimed at rooting out corruption in his country will be introduced in two weeks, but the leader rejects calls for the creation of an independent anti-corruption court. "I am absolutely confident that it is vital for us to create anti-corruption system in the whole court institution of Ukraine," Poroshenko said in an exclusive interview with CBC's Rosemary Barton. Source
  • 'Save our liberty!' Protesters in wheelchairs disrupt hearing on Obamacare replacement bill

    World News CBC News
    Protesters in wheelchairs interrupted Monday's U.S. Senate hearing on the Republican health-care bill aimed at repealing and replacing "Obamacare." "No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!" they shouted at the Senate finance committee meeting. The noisy protests forced committee chairman Orrin Hatch to recess the hearing just moments after it began. Source
  • Edmonton police officer disciplined for lying about being a helicopter pilot

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- An Edmonton police officer has been docked a week's pay for lying about being a helicopter pilot. Const. Jess Bagan pleaded guilty last year to two counts of misconduct in what police are calling a unique case. Source
  • Search on for hunter in Saskatchewan who had set out to find 2 others

    Canada News CTV News
    BUFFALO NARROWS, Sask. -- Mounties and civilians are searching in northern Saskatchewan for a man who was searching for two missing hunters. RCMP say the search is in the Frobisher Lake area north of Buffalo Narrows, about 500 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. Source
  • Northern Saskatchewan hunter found safe, search called off

    Canada News CTV News
    BUFFALO NARROWS, Sask. - Mounties say the search has been called off for a man in northern Saskatchewan as he has been located and is fine. They had believed that 53-year-old Brent Caissy of Buffalo Narrows went alone in a white jet boat to the area to search for two hunters who were last heard from on Sept. Source
  • Man charged with manslaughter charge in Alberta carfentanil death

    Canada News CTV News
    EDSON, Alta. - An Alberta man faces a manslaughter charge after police allege he supplied pills in a carfentanil overdose. RCMP say 48-year-old Guy Kennedy was found dead in a hotel room in Edson, Alta. Source
  • B.C. man acquitted of 4 terrorism charges related to Facebook posts

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - A British Columbia man accused of using his Facebook account to express support of "lone wolf" terrorist attacks has been acquitted of all charges. Othman Hamdan's judge-alone trial began in June, when he pleaded not guilty to encouraging the commission of murder, assault and mischief as well as inducing and instructing someone to carry out a terrorist act. Source
  • Ex-cop arrested near White House with arsenal of weapons

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — A man arrested near the White House Sunday morning is a former Memphis police officer who had an arsenal of weapons in his car and believed the CIA had implanted a chip in his head, according to court documents. Source