Taiwan’s coast guard and navy are planning a drill on the biggest island in the widely disputed South China Sea. The exercise at Taiping Island in the Spratly chain will obviously remind rivals China and four Southeast Asian countries of Taiwan’s massive but normally passive claim to the sea. The government in Taipei uses historical documents derived from China to call itself boss of the whole 3.5 million-square-km tropical body of water that’s coveted for its fisheries, gas, oil and shipping lanes.
Military action would normally cause waves with other claimants, especially Vietnam because its own Spratly holdings are close to the 1,400 meter-long Taiping Island. Taiwan also hopes to stir things up in its favor after a world arbitration court ruled in July that the already militarized island lacks the legal status to offer an exclusive economic zone in surrounding waters. Taiwan controls just one other feature in the Spratlys – an uninhabitable sandbar.