On the morning of Oct. 3, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Dewey sailed through waters within 12 nautical miles of Taiping Island, prompting a Chinese People’s Liberation Army destroyer to immediately appear within the few nautical miles visible to the naked eye on the Taiping Island shore. Lianhe Daily reported Oct. 6 that, through monitoring Channel 16 VHF, the international maritime emergency distress frequency, it is known that U.S. military and the ships of the People’s Liberation Army exchanged words.
The report also stated that there is a 6,000-meter (19,685-feet) restricted water area surrounding Taiping Island. Although these particular ships from the United States and mainland China did not enter Taiwanese restricted waters, the island was placed on high alert as the ships from the two parties approached the vicinity of Taiping Island. Taiwan’s coast guard and military stationed on the island were paying close attention to developments in the surrounding waters.
Taiping Island is located in the northern waters of the Nansha Islands and is currently under the administration of Taiwan authorities. Approximately 200 military police are stationed on the island; there is a small airport. In August of this year, an international satellite-imaging company released the latest satellite images of Taiping Island, showing that the harbor maintenance dredging work on Taiping Island is almost complete, with a significant increase in the beach area around the island.
Mainland Chinese military expert Song Zhongping believes that the extension of Taiping Island is for the purpose of accommodating the docking of larger-tonnage warships and large military aircraft. This is not simply preparation for the Taiwan military but is most likely preparation for the U.S. military. Therefore, in the future, Taiping Island may indeed become the new ground zero in the deterioration of the situation in the South China Sea and in Chinese-U.S. relations.
The Public Affairs Division of the U.S. Seventh Fleet announced Oct. 3 that the USS Dewey had conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation near the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea that day. Taiwan’s National Security Director Tsai Ming-Yen said yesterday that Taiwan’s coast guard commission has routine patrols around Taiping Island and that larger ships will be deployed to Taiping Island, one after another, with the expectation that the situation in the area will be stabilized.
For a long time, the United States has carried out illegal provocations in the South China Sea in the name of freedom of navigation, undermining the sovereignty and security of other countries and jeopardizing regional peace and stability. The approach of a U.S. warship to Taiping Island is a new provocation that may gradually bring Taiping Island to the forefront, becoming a new point of danger in the South China Sea.