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Taiwan to keep deploying frigates to disputed South China Sea island

Large vessels serve in addition to regular patrols around Taiping Island

Taiping Island is pictured in 2016. (Reuters photo)

Taiping Island is pictured in 2016. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan will continue to send large Coast Guard vessels to its disputed South China Sea claim hoping to “stabilize the regional situation," the country’s national security director said on Monday (Nov. 6).

Tsai Ming-yen (蔡明彥) was responding to questions from legislators about possible Chinese incursions into the area around the South China Sea’s Taiping Island, which is claimed by Taiwan, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Tsai said that the Coast Guard routinely patrols the area, and gradually larger ships will also be deployed to the waters around the island, per CNA.

A Taiwan Coast Guard spokesperson told Taiwan News that the large vessels Tsai referred to were frigates such as the Hsinchu and Chiayi class vessels, which weigh between 500 and 4,000 tons. The spokesperson declined to answer questions about when and how many vessels would be deployed, citing security concerns.

The spokesperson said that due to the size of the ships and the relatively shallow port at the island, large frigates are unable to actually dock there. They said that larger ships anchor in waters near the island, and ships from between 20 to 100 tons ferry staff back and forth.

Tsai also responded to senior Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) who questioned the lack of a Marine Corps presence on the island, in comparison to Dongsha Island, where an estimated 500 marines are stationed, per the China Times. Tsai said that stationing marines in Taiping would require a thorough assessment because any move Taiwan makes would likely stoke regional tensions.

Responding to questions about the possible recent entry of U.S. and Chinese ships into a 12-mile zone around Taiping Island, Tsai said that the location of all ships operating in the area was known by the security bureau. He said that the bureau has response plans in place for various scenarios that may occur in the area.

Also known as Itu Aba, Taiwan last conducted a live fire exercise around the disputed territory in August. Vietnam slammed the exercises, calling them a “serious violation” of its sovereignty, echoing previous responses issued when drills were held.