Taiwan’s coastguard said today it would stage a live-fire exercise next month in disputed South China Sea islands, a move that could raise regional tensions.
The drill will take place on Taiping Island between April 9 and 11 in the Spratlys, a sprawling group of islands claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.
Among other weaponry, the drill will involve 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars, both shipped to the island last year to boost Taiwan’s defence capability in the Spratlys, according to the coastguard.
Taiping is the biggest island in the Spratlys and has long been governed by Taiwan, which maintains a small coastguard garrison there.
Vietnam voiced anger after Taiwan moved the new, longer-range artillery and mortars to Taiping Island last year.
All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which cover a vast area but have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres.
The potentially resource-rich sea, home to important trade routes, is a potential military flashpoint and there has been a string of diplomatic rows between countries with overlapping territorial claims in recent years.
The Philippines and Vietnam have complained that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area -- such as harassing fishermen -- and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.