Taiwan MPs visit disputed Spratlys to renew claim

Three Taiwanese legislators and several top military officers flew to the disputed Spratly islands Monday to renew their territorial claim amid mounting tensions in the South China Sea.

The three legislators -- all sitting on the parliament's defence committee -- landed on Taiping Island, the biggest in the contested waters, on an air force C-130 transport plane.

Taiwan built a 1,150-metre (3,795-foot) runway on the fortified island in mid-2006, despite protests from the other countries with claims on the disputed island group.

The parliamentarians were briefed by officers on defence measures for repelling intruders.

"The visit was aimed at reiterating Taiwan's territorial claim over the Spratlys," legislator Lin Yu-fang told reporters after the trip.

The move came with tensions in the South China Sea running high, with China and the Philippines locked in a maritime dispute over the Scarborough Shoal.

The tensions began when Chinese maritime vessels blocked the Philippine navy from arresting the crews of eight fishing vessels which had entered the area.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim all or part of the potentially oil-rich Spratlys.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres (two square miles).

One-third of global seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea, which is also believed to encompass huge oil and gas reserves.

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