Taiwan's planned military drill in disputed Taiping rankles nerves in China

The military drills are to be performed around Itu Aba island at the end of the month

Japan protests again after Chinese ships sail into waters near disputed isles
Picture for representation Reuters

Taiwan, which has mostly kept away from the disputes over the South China Sea, seems to be re-establishing its claims on the territories where many countries have overlapping claims.

Rescue drills, which is likely to involve its navy, will be organised around Itu Aba, known by Taiwan as Taiping - Taiwan's sole territorial holding in the South China Sea, at the end of the month, said Taiwan's coastguard on Monday.

In a statement issued by the Coast Guard Administration, the officials said: "Currently the navy regularly patrols near Taiping Island. We don't rule out the navy playing a supporting role in future humanitarian rescue drills being held near Taiping."

Though it is understood that this is the first planned drill since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May, no additional information was given.

Itu Aba, which was classified as a rock and not an island by an international court's judgement, serves as a strategic location of enormous importance for Taiwan. More than 100 coastguard personnel are stationed there since Taiwan's coastguard took it over from Taiwanese military.

However, former president Ma Ying-jeou visit to Itu Aba earlier this year was criticised by the United States, which is the country's only big ally. The US explained its displeasure over the visit by saying that it did not want tensions to escalate in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China is sceptical about Taiwan's strategy over the disputed sea. Though China previously announced that Beijing and Taipei have to protect Chinese sovereignty in the waterway, the Asian superpower distrusts President Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

The South China Sea has been a topic of conflict between China and the Southeast Asian nations. Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims in the disputed waters, but Beijing claims the whole of South China Sea.

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.