Taiwanese group visits contested islands

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 29 2012 10:57 PM | Updated as of Aug 30 2012 06:57 AM

TAIPEI - Taiwan's navy has taken a group of academics to contested islands in the South China Sea, the second such trip in five weeks, the defence ministry said Wednesday amid mounting tensions in the area.

A 14-member delegation from National Taiwan University returned to Taiwan Wednesday after visiting Taiwan-controlled Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys, on board a Navy frigate, the defence ministry said in a statement.

"The group... held a flag-raising ceremony with the coastguard members stationed there to inspire patriotism in the young," it said.

"Naval officers and soldiers also visited the island to reiterate sovereignty claims over the Spratlys," the statement said.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of the Spratlys -- an area thought to contain large oil reserves.

Taiwan in June reiterated its claim to the islands, along with three other island groups in the South China Sea, amid a resurgence of rival claims in the region.

In July, Taiwanese authorities sent longer-range artillery and mortars to Taiping and said it planned to conduct a live-fire military drill there in September, in a move that angered Vietnam.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which are spread across a vast area but have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres (two square miles).

South China Sea tensions escalated last month when China announced a new city and military garrison in the disputed Paracel Islands, prompting Washington to voice concern.