Taiwan asks Google to blur images showing new South China Sea military installations

The defence ministry and coast guard of Taiwan says details about the structures are highly confidential.

Taiwan's defence ministry asked Google on Wednesday to blur satellite images of new military installations on Itu Aba, the largest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands and Taipei's sole holding in the disputed waters of South China Sea.

"Under the pre-condition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested Google blur images of important military facilities," Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told Reuters.

This step was taken after a few local media published the images on Itu Aba.

Authorities believe that the revelation of new military-related construction could raise tensions in the contested waterway as China's building of airstrips and other facilities has already created disturbance among other claimants and the United States.

The pictures on Google Earth show four three-pronged structures sitting in a semi-circle just off the northwestern shoreline of Itu Aba.

The defence ministry and coast guard of Taiwan, which directly oversees Itu Aba, said details about the structures are highly confidential. The officials have not commented on their nature.

In response to the request, Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, said it was reviewing the request from Taiwan. But it said till date such requests have not resulted in Google blurring images.

"We take security concerns very seriously, and are always willing to discuss them with public agencies and officials," Google spokesman Taj Meadows said.

The satellite images which are used on Google Earth and Google Maps come from third-party providers. Google purchases those images for using those in its mapping system.

Taiwan's defence experts said that based on the imagery of the structures and their semi-circular layout, it is clear that the structures are possibly related to defence and could be part of an artillery foundation.

"I think definitely it will be for military purposes, but I cannot tell if it is for defending, attacking or monitoring," said Dustin Wang, a scholar and a former government advisor.

Wang also said they may relate those images to surveillance especially when the structures' location faces the main seaborne traffic.

The South China Sea issue has already seen a number of conflicts between several nations including China, Philippines, and others.

In July, an international court in The Hague ruled against China in a case brought by the Philippines and rejected China's vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. Both China and Taiwan vehemently rejected the court ruling.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes and its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.