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Taiwan warns of big Chinese bases

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TAIPEI—China has built “enormous” military bases on three islands surrounding Taiwan’s main claim in the South China Sea, Taiwan’s foreign minister said Wednesday, as the communist giant also jousts with the Philippines, escalating tensions in the vital waterway.

Taiwan claims an islet in the contested Spratly Islands deep in the southern part of the sea called Itu Aba, which the democratic island state refers to as Taiping.

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters there was no doubt the island belonged to Taiwan and the government would defend their sovereignty over it.

But China “has already created very enormous South China Sea military bases on the three islands surrounding Taiping – Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef – and these are all quite close to our Taiping,” Wu said.

“As the dispute continues to intensify, we in Taiwan must consider how to use peaceful means to resolve the South China Sea issue, and not let others think we are creating difficulties,” he added.

The Philippines also has claimed the reefs, which it has named Zamora (for Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), and Panganiban (Mischief) – but China has claimed them and built modern facilities on all three features.

Taiwanese lawmakers from both sides of the aisle previously called on President Tsai Ing-wen to visit Itu Aba before she steps down in May to assert their nation’s sovereignty and see a newly renovated harbor that can take larger ships.

Both of Tsai’s predecessors visited the island, but she has yet to do so while in office. But Wu said if there is an opportunity, Taiwan will use the “best way” to demonstrate its sovereignty over Itu Aba, he added without elaborating. 

Earlier, Taiwan’s marines performed on Saturday at a northern port where the public was given a rare chance to board three warships before the navy embarks on a “friendship” tour in the Pacific.

The self-ruled island currently has diplomatic relations with just 12 countries worldwide, three of them in the Pacific — Tuvalu, Republic of Palau, and Marshall Islands.

The three warships known as the Dunmu Goodwill Fleet will travel there after circling Taiwan, stopping at various ports to showcase the soldiers’ athletic talents.

The navy’s friendship tour is a yearly event, but this visit comes as tensions have soared between Taiwan and China, which claims the democratic island as part of its territory.

Concerns ballooned after the presidential election in January — won by Vice President Lai Ching-te, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist”. In a post-election blow to Taiwan, the small Pacific nation of Nauru dropped diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing.

Nauru was the 10th ally poached by Beijing during the eight-year administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to acknowledge China’s claim on Taiwan. With AFP


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