Taiwan completes airstrip on disputed island

TAIPEI Mon Jan 28, 2008 8:25am GMT

TAIPEI Jan 28 (Reuters) - Taiwan has completed an airstrip on the disputed Spratlys, military sources said on Monday, a move likely to stir anger with China, Vietnam and other governments that also claim the resource-rich islands.

Taiwan's Ministry of Defence had finished a 1,150-metre (3,770-ft) runway on Taiping and tested it, the sources said. They said the strip would be for military or civilian maritime rescue use.

"It's for movement of vehicles, any kind of vehicles civilian or military," a ministry spokesman said.

The airstrip will supplement Taiwan coastguard and air force stations on Taiping, which is the biggest in the Spratly chain at 489,500 square metres (120 acres) and 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Taiwan.

The Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea possibly holding large oil and gas deposits, are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Last year, the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung established a green turtle reserve on Taiping in a bid to stop hunting. All governments, except Brunei, that claim the Spratlys have now installed facilities there.

Vietnam has protested to Taiwan twice in the last two months as airstrip construction progressed, Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said.

"We've said all along Taiwan has sovereignty over these islands," Yeh said. "Any time we make a move, there's a protest, and Vietnam is particularly assertive."

In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle near the Spratlys' Johnson Reef, killing more than 70 Vietnamese sailors. (Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)