Taiwan Stakes Its Claim on Disputed Isle

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian views a memorial on the island Taiping Dao, west of the Philippines.
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian views a memorial on the island Taiping Dao, west of the Philippines. (Military News Agency Of Taiwan Via Associated Press)
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By Jane Rickards
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 3, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Feb. 2 -- Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian inaugurated a runway on one of the disputed Spratly Islands on Saturday and insisted the archipelago belongs to Taiwan despite claims by China and several other Asian countries.

Chen's one-day round-trip voyage was designed to dramatize Taiwan's claim to the string of islands with the kind of gesture for which he has become famous during more than seven years as leader of this self-ruled island. Disregarding other countries' assertions, he declared the island he visited, Taiping Dao, "an intrinsic part of our territory," according to a statement from his office.

"From the beginning, we have had our brothers in the military and coastal patrol stationed here, and we have in succession set up relevant atmospheric, humanitarian and ecological testing facilities, occupying and administering this island for half a century," he added.

The Spratly Islands, more than 100 rocky islets, reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, are claimed in full or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits.

Chen's gesture drew an immediate protest from the Philippines. The Philippine foreign secretary, Alberto Romulo, said his nation expressed "serious concern" and called the inauguration ceremony "lamentable."

"It is unfortunate that Taiwan is resorting to what may be considered as irresponsible political posturing that could be of no possible advantage to the peace-loving Taiwanese people," Romulo said in a statement.

Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, said Chen's trip to the islands was designed as a "political message." He said Chen was asserting leadership after his Democratic Progressive Party suffered a humiliating loss in legislative elections three weeks ago, a defeat many observers said was encouraged by his confrontational style.

"He is trying to emphasize that he is fully in control," Yang said.

Chen wanted to land on Pratas Island, which is also claimed by China, but was unable to do so because of poor weather, according to a statement from his office.

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