The Pratas Islands, or Dongsha, one of the many islets in the South China Sea disputed between the nations around it, was in the news this week. First Max Hirsch of Kyodo News reported on the Pratas in the context of the new capitulation reduction of tensions between Taiwan and China:

Smack-dab in the South China Sea, the atoll of Pratas Islands, with its azure waters and white, sandy beaches, was until recently a front-line military garrison. Also until recently, China reportedly considered taking the islets by force as a practice run for an all-out offensive against Taiwan proper.

But recent moves to demilitarize the Pratas serve as one of the clearest signs yet that tensions in the strait have eased dramatically.

”As relations with China improve, this place has become more a national park than a military outpost,” says Liu Kuo-lie, the Coast Guard commander of the Pratas, referring to the establishment last year of the Dongsha Marine National Park on the atoll.

The interesting thing about this is that last year when the national park was set up, there was some suspicion that it was simply a way of Taiwan solidifying its claim over the islands. But AFP reports that those perfidious Chinese have staged an invasion of the national park anyway:

Chinese fishermen have been accused of poaching in Taiwan’s first marine national park, where authorities say their destructive methods are endangering the area’s ecology. “Chinese fishing boats have been posing the gravest threat to the fragile ecological system here,” said Shaw I-pung (蕭一鵬) of the Marine National Park headquarters, speaking of the tiny coral atoll called Dongsha Island.

“They have been using illegal methods like poisons, dynamite and electricity to exploit marine resources in the region,” he said.

The scourge of boats scouring the seabed for food destined for Hong Kong restaurants is combining with global warming as a major cause of coral reef bleaching, he said.

It is a good thing “tensions” are reduced and normal activities like fishing can go on…. Taiwan has been trying to develop the island for tourism, but a friend of mine who was out there a while back says facilities are decidedly lacking. For those interested, there’s some background on the Pratas and other islands in the Taiwan Review from 2001.