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Taiwan defense chief indicates US ships entered Taiping Island's waters

Defense radar differed from Coast Guard account of ships' location, according to minister

A crew member on a U.S. destroyer sails near Taiping Island on Nov. 3. (X, U.S. 7th Fleet photo)

A crew member on a U.S. destroyer sails near Taiping Island on Nov. 3. (X, U.S. 7th Fleet photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s defense minister on Monday (Nov. 20) said information he has on recent activity around Taiwan’s South China Sea claim differed from the Coast Guard, which a week ago said Chinese and U.S warships did not enter Taiping Island’s territorial waters.

On Nov. 13, Taiwan’s Coast Guard told lawmakers that U.S. and Chinese military ships spotted near Taiping Island did not enter the 12-nautical mile zone around the claim. Deputy Chief of the Coast Guard Administration's (CGA) Patrol Division Chia Chih-kuo (賈治國) said U.S. ships were located 21 nautical miles off the island, while Chinese ships were over 13 nautical miles away.

However, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) on Monday was asked if he had seen satellite images that lawmakers said show U.S. ships within 10 nautical miles of the territory. Chiu said that what the defense ministry saw on its radar was different from what the Coast Guard had seen, per CNA.

Chiu did not elaborate on the statement. Taiwan News contacted the Coast Guard and was told by a spokesperson that the matter is under investigation, but no formal response was provided by the time of publication.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. said that its destroyer had sailed near Taiping Island to challenge “unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC (China), Taiwan, and Vietnam” in the South China Sea. On the same day, Ocean Affairs Council (OAC) Minister Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said on Facebook that no foreign vessels entered the island’s territorial waters.

Kuan was responding to accusations leveled against the Coast Guard by KMT Legislator Chen I-hsin (陳以信) that the organization was failing in its duty to protect Taiwan’s territorial integrity. On Nov. 6, it was announced that Taiwan would send more and larger frigates to the island, and legislators said on Nov. 12 that in December they would travel to Taiping to "inspect and declare sovereignty" over the island.

Like many features of the Spratly Islands group, the sovereignty of Taiping Island is disputed. The island is claimed by Taiwan, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, but it is administered by Taiwan, which maintains a military presence on the island.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) outlined a framework for responding to regional territorial disputes according to international law in 2016. However, that same year, Taiwan rejected a ruling by an international tribunal on the territory, denying its claim to an exclusive economic zone.

Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling's (管碧玲) Nov. 3 Facebook post.