Taipei yesterday protested the Vietnamese government's move to send
tourists to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the
foreign ministry said yesterday.
In a statement, the ministry said it has voiced serious concerns to
Hoang Nhu Ly, Vietnam's representative to Taipei.
The Republic of China is one of the six countries claiming the
island group as part of their territories. The other nations are
Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Taiwan has set up a military base on Taiping Island, the largest of
the islands that make up the group.
The protest came after a Vietnamese boat carried around 60
Vietnamese tourists and 40 "invited" officials to Big
Spratly Island, around 650 kilometers (400 miles) off Vietnam's
"The Spratly Islands are historically, geographically and
legally the territory of the Republic of China, and Vietnamese
authorities must immediately halt the move that might cause regional
tensions," the foreign ministry said.
Taiwan also renewed its claim to the islands, which straddle vital
shipping lanes and are believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves.
In August last year, Taiwan's ex-Interior Minister Yu Cheng-hsien
in August raised the national flag on the uninhabited Chungchou Reef,
known as Ban Than Reef to the Vietnamese, in a show of Taiwan's
In its latest move, Taiwan's coast guard units on March 23 erected
a bird watching observation shelter on a reef six kilometers (3.6
miles) from Taiping Island, despite protests from Vietnam.
Meanwhile China, whose navy has engaged in violent clashes with
Vietnamese ships in the islands in the past, has voiced its opposition
to the tour.
"This practice by Vietnam violates China's territorial
sovereignty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said
in a statement on the ministry's Web site issued on Friday.
Acting Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Franklin Ebdalin
reminded Hanoi that the 2002 ASEAN declaration of conduct commits
signatories "to refrain from committing acts that would disrupt
the status quo".
"We have to do this through consultation," he told
reporters in Manila. The declaration sets no penalties for violations.
An official from the Vietnam National Tourism Administration told
Reuters the tour was a test and, if successful, would be repeated with
foreigners, who were barred from the maiden visit.
Vietnam has said the tour aimed to assert its claims to sovereignty
over the Spratlys.
The tourists will meet Vietnamese soldiers stationed on the
islands, scuba dive at reefs and sail through the Dai Hung oil field.
Also on the agenda is a visit to Con Dao, where Vietnam's former
French colonial rulers maintained prisons.
Vietnam Defence Minister Pham Van Tra, in Singapore in April, said
Hanoi was acting in accordance with ASEAN principles.
The communist country would not be the first to send tourists to
the archipelago, he said, citing a similar tour by Malaysia.