Taiping drill will not be rescheduled ahead of elections: officials

2018/11/05 14:38:06 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
CNA file photo

CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 5 (CNA) The Ocean Affairs Council (OAC) said Monday that there is no need to postpone a scheduled live-fire exercise in the run up to the local government elections since it is a routine drill to test the coastguard's readiness on a small island in the South China Sea.

At a legislative hearing, OAC head Hwung Hwung-hweng (黃煌煇) said the exercise was planned long ago and will be carried out Nov. 21-23 on Taiping Island and in the surrounding waters as scheduled.

It would be awkward to reschedule the Taiping drill at the last minute simply because of the Nov. 24 elections and reports of a U.S. exercise in the South China Sea, he told lawmakers.

The drill is meant to test the Taiwan coastguard's response readiness on Taiping and Taiwan as a whole, Hwung said, in the wake of a CNN report that the U.S. was planning to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea later this month.

Hwung said the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) will evaluate the situation to make sure that the Taiwan drill does not escalate regional tensions.

Fielding questions during the session, CGA Director-General Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) also said the Taiping drill was part of a routine exercise that was planned since December 2017.

He said the live fire exercise will be staged within a safety range near Taiping Island and is unlikely to raise tensions since it is not expected to affect the passage of vessels from other countries in nearby waters.

The CGA usually holds four live-fire exercises in waters near Taiping in March, May, August and November each year.

However, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has been urging the CGA to reschedule the drill this month to avoid an escalation of regional and cross-strait tensions ahead of the local government elections.

The CGA has said it will issue regular announcements ahead of time to warn fishermen and vessels in the area of the live-fire exercise, which will be carried out 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day Nov. 21-23.

As usual, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) will inform neighboring countries, the CGA said in a press release on Oct. 31.

Six countries -- Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei -- claim sovereignty over all or some of the islands in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters.

Taiwan controls Taiping, the largest of the Spratly Islands, which is located some 1,600 kilometers from Kaohsiung. With an area of 0.51 square kilometers, it has 200 coastguard officers stationed there and a few civilian residents.

Vietnam has expressed concern over the upcoming live-fire drills near the Spratly Islands.

(By Huang Li-yun and Joseph Yeh)
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