Taiwan is planning to deploy missile boats in the South China Sea and tanks on disputed islands as regional tensions mount over territorial differences, a military spokesman said Sunday. Taiwan's defence ministry said it feared coastguards now stationed in the Spratlys, claimed by several nations, and the Pratas islands, claimed by China, may not be sufficiently heavily-equipped to handle potential conflicts. "Currently the coastguards in the Nansha (Spratlys) and Tungsha (Pratas) are only armed with light weapons," Taiwan's defence ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP. "The missile boats and tanks is an option we've offered to the coastguards," he said, without specifying numbers and adding that the coastguard had yet to make a final decision. Local media said the missile boats' presence would serve as a deterrent. Each of Taiwan's 47-tonne Seagull class boats is armed with two Hsiungfeng I missiles, a ship-to-ship weapon with a range of 40 kilometres (24 miles). The remarks come as China becomes increasingly assertive in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea, following several years of relative quiet. Taiwan on Saturday reiterated its claims to the Spratlys, along with three other island groups in the South China Sea, amid a flare-up in regional tensions over rival claims. Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim all or part of the Spratlys, which could lie on top of large oil reserves. The Taiwanese coastguard currently has a 130-strong garrison on Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratlys archipelago, which has a runway to smooth logistical support. The Philippine military in April said it planned to use a new US-made vessel to boost patrols in the disputed waters, after a complaint about Chinese patrol boats harassing a Philippine oil exploration vessel in the area.
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