Taiwan to Hold Rescue Exercises in South China Sea

21 November, 2016

Taiwan says it will carry out exercises in the disputed South China Sea to practice search-and-rescue operations.

Taiwan has described the exercises as "humanitarian." Taiwan's Coast Guard announced the activities Sunday. The move is seen as an effort by Taiwan to show its willingness to ease tensions in the South China Sea.

The drills will be carried out in the near future depending on weather conditions, the Coast Guard said. They will take place near Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba.

Taiwan's Coast Guard directly administers Itu Aba, but it is also claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

South China Sea Territorial Claims
South China Sea Territorial Claims

The agency said in a statement that Taiwan's navy might take part in the exercises. The Coast Guard said, "Currently the navy regularly patrols near Taiping Island. We don't rule out the navy playing a supporting role in future humanitarian rescue drills being held near Taiping."

The Coast Guard also said the exercises will include drills on reacting to shipwrecks and rescuing and providing relief to sailors. It did not say how many forces would take part and what kinds of equipment would be used.

Taiwan has stated it operates a small military airport on Itu Aba. There is also a 10-bed hospital, a lighthouse and solar panels valued at $129 million.

The Coast Guard said Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen directed in July that Taiping Island be used as a "humanitarian search and rescue center."

Itu Aba is one of many islands, reefs, and other landforms in the disputed Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea.

China claims much of the South China Sea. It is an important seaway through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves each year. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have completing claims in the sea.

China's activities in the South China Sea have increased tensions with its neighbors, the United States and Japan. China has reclaimed land on several disputed reefs by dredging, and built airfields and ports.

In July, an international court ruled against China in a case brought by the Philippines. The court rejected China's historical claims to large areas of the South China Sea. Both China and Taiwan, which China considers a rebel province, rejected the ruling.

Jonathan Spangler is director of the Taipei-based South China Sea Think Tank. He says Taiwan has been trying to position itself as a peacemaker in the South China Sea dispute for many years.

"Humanitarian and search-and-rescue operations near Itu Aba would be a logical next step in backing up that political rhetoric with action," he said.

Taiwan launched efforts in 2015 to establish itself as a humanitarian player in the South China Sea. At that time, the government released a peace proposal intended to help resolve South China Sea disputes. It urged governments involved to put aside their "sovereignty disputes" and find ways to develop the sea's resources together.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News.com. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

practice v. do something over and over again as a way to get better at it

drill – n. way of learning something by doing repeated exercises

patrol v. to continually search an area to make sure it is safe

dredging - v.v. to dig out and clear material from a body of water

logical - adj. seeming natural, reasonable or sensible

rhetoric - n. language intended to influence people that might not be honest or reasonable

sovereigntyn. a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself