Taiwan News has a very interesting take on the Spratly trip of President Chen. The international media didn’t report any of this, of course, and come in for some well-deserved abuse in the first paragraph. I’ve included the whole thing here because, regrettably, things are difficult to access on their site after a couple of weeks. The Taipei Times’ system is much easier to use and much better.

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Chen ‘Provokes’ Peace

Escorted by F-16 Falcon jet fighters and Kidd destroyers, President Chen Shui-bian made a landmark visit to the Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island in the disputed Spratly (or Nansha) Island group in the South China Sea Saturday and, in a move “certain to irk” so-called “China experts” the world over, issued a proclamation calling for peace and environmental protection and the setting aside of sovereignty disputes.

The president’s plans to make a lunar new year visit to the island to encourage morale of military and coast guard personnel and to inaugurate a newly completed airstrip, were known in advance and slammed by pro-China pundits as another patented move by Chen Shui-bian to “provoke” an angry response by the authoritarian People’s Republic of China.

Naturally, the visit did arouse protests by other countries which have claims in the Spratlys, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, whose foreign ministry complained that Chen’s Air Force C-130 flew over its flight information region without permission during his three and a half hour flight and his return trip to the distant island, about 1,600 kilometers from Taiwan.

Taiwan’s claim to ownership of Taiping Island, the largest island in the group, dates to the occupation of the tiny island (then called Nagajima) by Japan, which then ruled Taiwan, and predated any claim by Vietnam (then a French colony) or the Republic of China.

The postwar R.O.C. government on Taiwan took over administration of Taiping and the Pratas (Tunghsha) Islands after Japan abandoned its sovereignty over Taiwan and associated islands in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco and stationed marines on the island from 1956 and set up a weather station on the island after 1999.

After decades of neglect under the KMT regime with its “China-centric” continental mentality, the Democratic Progressive Party government, in line with its definition of Taiwan as a “oceanic nation” revamped and intensified management of its island possessions under a new “South Seas Policy Guideline” announced in 2003.

As part of this policy, Taiping received a satellite control and monitoring station and plans were developed to set up a national oceanic park on the islet. In 2005, plans were launched to build an airstrip to supply military, coast guard personnel and Central Weather Service personnel and to facilitate air-sea rescue operations, emergency medical transportation and marine safety operations.

With the new airstrip, Taiwan joins the PRC, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam as nations which have built airstrips on islands in the Spartly Group, all of which are capable of accepting jet fighters.

In contrast, the new 1,150 meter airstrip opened by Chen on Taiping Saturday can host aircraft such as the C-130 transport, the P-3C “Orion” anti-submarine aircraft, but is too short for jet fighters.

There is no doubt that the DPP government’s moves have a political subtext, namely to remind neighboring countries that Taiwan holds the largest island in the chain and is therefore an active player in the South Seas and should be no longer be excluded from multilateral processes such as the 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” signed by the PRC and the Southeast Asian nations with sovereignty claims in the Spratlys.

Ecology first

Nevertheless, the president confounded domestic and overseas critics who habitually demonize his every action by issuing a Spratly Initiative” focussed on ecological protection, peace and the setting aside of sovereignty disputes instead of an anticipated “provocative” reassertion of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

In his speech, Chen stated that the various parties in the South Sea must put top priority on cherishing and protecting its delicate ecology and play close attention to the threat posed to the Spratlys by global warming and resulting rises in ocean levels and advocated the transformation of the South China Sea region into a “ocean ecological protection zone.”

Chen also announced that Taipei would regularly invite international marine and ecological scholars to tour and study the Pratas Islands and Taiping Island and proposed the establishment of a non-governmental “South Seas Research Center” to hold regular international seminars and serve as a forum for “two-track” contacts with other states involved in the region and thus help to ease instability.

Chen urged the other countries involved in the South Seas to set aside sovereignty disputes and work together to “substitute sustainable ecology for the depletion of resources” and resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Taiwan president also called for the formation of an inclusive “South Sea code of conduct” on the basis of equality and be included in processes such as the 2002 Declaration.

We believe the various concerned powers should welcome Chen’s call for the setting aside of sovereignty disputes in favor of joint action to protect the ecology of the Spratly region displays the moderation of his administration and the desire of the Taiwan government both to be recognized as an equal player and its commitment to peaceful and ecologically friendly development.

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It certainly gives a different view of the trip than most other media reports.