TAIPEI – Taiwan rejected a protest from the Philippines on Wednesday about live fire drills off a Taiwan-controlled island deep in the South China Sea, saying it had the right to do so and always provided advance notice of its exercises.
In a tweet posted late Tuesday on Twitter, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs expressed “strong opposition to Taiwan’s unlawful live fire drills” planned for this week around Itu Aba.
Taiwan refers to the island as Taiping, but the Philippines refers to it as Ligaw Island.
According to the department, the island belongs to the Philippines.
“This illegal action heightens tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea,” the statement stated.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry stated in a statement that the island was part of the Republic of China — Taiwan’s formal name — and that it enjoyed all applicable rights granted under international law.
“Our country has the legal authority to conduct normal drills on Taiping Island and adjacent marine areas.” “We notify the appropriate regional countries in advance of each live-fire drill to protect the safety of maritime traffic and fishing boats operating in surrounding maritime zones,” it stated.
Itu Aba is the largest feature in the Spratly Islands, which are claimed wholly or partially by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Normally, the Philippines complains most loudly about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including what Manila claims is illegal fishing.
The Philippines, like other countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, although there are significant cultural and economic ties, and Taiwan is home to approximately 160,000 Filipinos, the majority of whom are migrant laborers.
The plans China grounds its South China Sea claims on the Republic of China government, which controlled China until fleeing to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Taiwan also has jurisdiction over the Pratas Islands, which are located at the very northern extremity of the South China Sea.