Taiwanese naval vessels take part in a drill off the naval port in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan on Jan. 27.
Taiwanese naval vessels take part in a drill off the naval port in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan on Jan. 27.


Hong Kong – Outgoing Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will this week visit a disputed island in the South China Sea, potentially inflaming already fraught tensions in the region.

The Office of the President told CNN Wednesday that President Ma will visit Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, a small land mass it controls more than 990 miles (1,600 km) south of Taiwan in the Spratly islands archipelago.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to all or part of the Spratlys, while China claims most of the South China Sea.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that President Ma planned to visit troops stationed there ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Tensions have risen over the past two years as Beijing has embarked on a massive land reclamation program — turning sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses.

Earlier this month, Vietnam objected to China landing a plane on a man-made island in the Spratlys. Then last week, the two neighbors were involved in another terse exchange over China’s operation of an oil drilling rig in waters claimed by both countries.

New leader

News of President Ma’s visit comes barely a week after Taiwan elected its first female leader in a landslide election win.

China reacted with caution to the stunning victory by Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with an editorial in the state-run Xinhua news agency stating that there was “no denying that the DPP’s return rule poses grave challenges to cross-strait relations.”

The incumbent Ma is considered friendly towards Beijing and met with China’s President Xi Jinping in November, the first talks between the leaders of the two side since the split in 1949.

A statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office quoted by Xinhua said it resolutely opposed “any form of secessionist activities seeking ‘Taiwan independence.'”

Meanwhile, the Central News Agency quoted DPP spokesman Yang Chia-liang as saying the party had turned down an invitation from President Ma’s office for President-elect Tsai to send an envoy on the trip.

Tsai will take office in May.

As reported by CNN