TAIPEI—Taiwan’s coastguards said Monday that Taipei had staged a live-fire drill within a hotly-contested island chain in the South China Sea, in a move that risks stoking regional tensions.
More than 2,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by garrison forces on Taiwan-administered Taiping, the largest of the Spratly Islands, Wang Chin-wang, chief of the Coast Guard Administration, told parliament.
It was Taipei’s first live-fire drill in the Spratlys — claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei — since long-range mortars and artillery were shifted to Taiping Island in August last year.
The exercise took place in the middle of the April, Wang said.
Taiwanese legislator Lin Yu-fang, who sits on the bench of parliament’s defense and diplomacy committee, asked Wang to disregard possible reaction from other claimants.
“Taiping Island is part of our territory. You just did what you should do. You’ve done a good job,” Lin said.
Wang said the live rounds included 40 millimeter artillery shells and 120 millimeter mortars, which were transported to the island last year causing Vietnam to express its anger over the new, longer-range weapons.
All claimants to the Spratlys, apart from 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 kilometers (two square miles).
The potentially resource-rich sea, home to important trade routes, is a potential military flashpoint and there have 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.