Taiwanese President to visit disputed island in South China Sea

Smaller powers in the region such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei see China as the biggest threat.

  • Updated
Taiwan president to visit disputed island
Taiwan Coast Guard patrol ships are seen during a drill near the port of Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, June 6, 2015.

Taiwan has said President Ma Ying-jeou will visit Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea on Thursday amid rising geopolitical tension in the region.

"The Taiping Island is an inherent part of the Republic of China's territory," presidential spokesman Charles Chen said ahead of Ma's first visit to the island.

Weeks ago, Taiwanese coastguards had driven off a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the island in the Spratly archipelago.

The Spratlys are a bone of contention in the region along with another island chain Paracel.

Complicated claim

China lays claim to both the island chains stating that these were integral part of the empire from ages. In 1947 China formalised the claims by issuing a map showing the islands in its territory. But Vietnam has contested China's claims saying its rule over Paracels and Spratlys dates back to the 17th century.

In Taiwan's case, the claim is a bit more complicated. Technically its territory claims within the U-shaped line around South China Sea are same as that of China's but Taipei shies away from aggressively asserting the claims.

The president's office said the purpose of the visit this time is to greet the Taiwanese soldiers in the island ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Ma, who is widely seen as a China-friendly Kuomintang leader, is on his way out of power, with president-elect Tsai Ing-wen assuming office in four months.

The smaller powers in the region with claims to South China Sea landmasses -- such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- see China as the biggest threat.

The US is increasingly getting involved in the region to offset China's rising presence there, making South China Sea dispute an irritant in Sino-American ties.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in China to hold talks with his counterparts on a range of issues including the south China Sea dispute and the North Korean nuclear crisis.

This article was first published on January 27, 2016