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Taiwan May Be Making Quiet Military Power Moves In The South China Sea

REUTERS/Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via Reuters

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Satellite images show Taiwan building military structures on a contested island in the South China Sea, reports Sina Military News.

Images acquired from Google Maps show four three-pronged structures extending out from the coastline of Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island), the largest of the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The structures sit near a recently upgraded airstrip and a port capable of docking 3,000-ton frigates.

The main theory on the purpose of these new structures is that they are blockhouse towers for anti-aircraft gun installations, according to the United Press International (UPI).

Not long after that theory came out, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense reportedly asked Google to blur out the images, reports Reuters. As the image can still be seen clearly on Google Maps, it would appear that Google has not acquiesced. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense told Reuters that the construction work being carried out on Itu Aba is confidential.

Defense experts assert that the structures are almost certainly for military purposes. The platforms face out towards the sea lanes, indicating that they may be for surveillance. There is also the possibility that they are artillery platforms.

“I cannot tell if it is for defending, attacking or monitoring,” scholar and former government adviser Dustin Wang told to reporters, explaining that while the structures appear military in nature, their exact purpose is unclear.

During former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s time in office, Itu Aba Island was outfitted with military bunkers, mortars, and anti-aircraft batteries. This territory is a critical holding for Taiwan; it has the potential to offer Taiwan an exclusive economic zone for fishing and mineral exploration. Ma organized a number of military drills and deployed a number of naval vessels near the disputed Itu Aba Island.

Before Ma’s successor Tsai Ing-wen took office, there were questions as to whether or not she would follow in Ma’s footsteps and move to make the island more defensible. If the structures under construction are indeed for military purposes, it would seem that Tsai is rapidly moving towards strengthening the islands military capabilities.

When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July on the case unilaterally submitted by the Philippines on disputes in the South China Sea, China’s claims to the South China Sea were discredited. While Taiwan was not a party to the ruling, its claims to Itu Aba were also affected. The arbitration tribunal ruled that the island is a rock, not an island capable of supporting life. Both China and Taiwan, which China regards as a separatist province, reject the ruling.

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