By Ivan Watson and Mark Phillips/ March 28/ CNN
Taiping island, South China Sea (CNN)- Taiwan claims to have continuously occupied this postage stamp-sized island in the azure waters of the South China Sea for 60 years. But it wasn’t until this week, that the government invited journalists to see the tiny place firsthand.
Also known as Itu Aba, Taiping island consists of little more than a 1,360 meter long airstrip bordered on two sides by palm trees and white sandy beaches.
But that is enough for Taiwan to make its case in the growing struggle for control of this hotly disputed body of water — where $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through annually.
Island, not a rock
Taiping Island “is entitled to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles,” outgoing Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou told journalists on Wednesday — which gives a country special rights over the seabed, and marine resources like fish.
However, there at least six countries laying competing claims to different parts of the South China Sea, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
China, with a large U shape on its maps, lays claim to virtually all of the contested waters.
To cement its stance, Beijing has been building man-made islands atop seven reefs it controls in the Spratly archipelago, a series of atolls far closer to the Philippines and Malaysia than mainland China.
These massive land reclamation projects have made the neighbors nervous.
“Like most countries we are opposed to militarization or military expansionism in the area,” said Bruce Linghu, deputy foreign minister of Taiwan.
The diplomat expressed concern that China’s ambitious island-building could trigger “possible confrontations or conflicts.” Read more…