Taiwan's lighthouse in disputed sea nearly complete

Ko Shu-ling, Kyodo News

Posted at Oct 01 2015 11:20 PM | Updated as of Oct 02 2015 07:20 AM

TAIPEI - Taiwan will complete the construction of a lighthouse on an island in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is potentially rich with oil and gas, as early as Wednesday, paving the way for a possible visit by President Ma Ying-jeou before his presidency ends in May next year.

An official at the Maritime and Port Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications told Kyodo News that construction of the first lighthouse on Taiping Island, or Itu Aba, which is administered by Taiwan and forms part of the Spratly Archipelago in the disputed South China Sea, will be completed on Wednesday or Thursday and the solar-powered lighthouse will be ready to enter operation as soon as it passes inspections.

The purpose of the construction is to "strengthen national sovereignty and protect navigation safety," the bureau said on its website.

Apart from the lighthouse, there are two other development projects taking place on the island, both of which are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

One is the construction of a pier by the Coast Guard Administration and the other is the Defense Ministry's improvement of a runway built in 2008.

Once completed, the docking facility could accommodate 3,000-ton naval frigates and coastguard cutters and the lengthened runway could allow the deployment of fighter aircraft.

Ma himself suggested in June this year that he might visit Taiping Island "to promote peace and stability in the region."

Ma said he has ordered government agencies to formulate the "road map" for a "South China Sea Peace Initiative" which he proposed in May this year.

Many suspected that he might take the opportunity of the completion of the construction projects to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former president Chen Shui-bian, in unveiling related policies on Taiping Island.

Chen visited Taiping Island three months before his second term of presidency ended in May 2008 and announced what he called the "Spratly Initiative," similar in many respects to Ma's "South China Sea Peace Initiative."

Under Ma's plan, he calls on claimants to islands in the area to exercise self-restraint, refrain from engaging in provocative acts, abide by international law and set aside issues of sovereignty in favor of mutual exploration and "zonal development of resources under integrated planning."

He also urged the establishment of coordination and cooperation mechanisms for such nontraditional security issues as environmental protection, scientific research, maritime crime fighting and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Besides Taiwan, other claimants have been beefing up military development in the South China Sea. The disputes over islands and reefs in the area involve Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and China.

China has insisted that its massive land reclamation projects in the area are largely for civilian and non-military purposes. The country has drawn international criticism over the speed and nature of its developments and claims in the South China Sea.