Taipei, June 8 (CNA) In a message to the United States, Taiwan’s new government has disavowed a statement by its defense minister that it would soon ship 40,000 rounds of ammunition to an island Taiwan controls in the South China Sea, saying the official misspoke.
The U.S. voiced concern after the statement was made, but Foreign Minister David Lee said on Wednesday that his ministry has explained to Washington that the comment made by Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) was a “verbal mistake.”
“We have told the United States that Feng’s public comments did not accurately reflect his actual views and that he may have made some verbal mistakes at that time,” Lee said to reporters before attending a legislative hearing.
Feng said Monday during a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Yuan that the military will ship 40,000 rounds of ammunition for its guns to Taiping Island — the biggest natural land formation in the Spratly archipelago — between late June and early July.
He recanted the statement on Tuesday, saying the military was actually shipping the ammunition to the Pratas Islands, another disputed South China Sea island group controlled by Taiwan.
“We have completed shipments to the Spratlys,” Feng said, calling the shipment a routine resupply and saying Taiwan has not increased its military deployment in either the Pratas or Spratly islands.
Feng’s statement on Monday prompted the U.S. to call for claimants in the South China Sea to reduce tension in the region rather than take actions that escalate tension, according to print media reports.
It was the second time this year Washington had expressed its concerns about Taiwan’s activity in the South China Sea after then President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made a pre-Lunar New Year’s visit to Taiping Island in late January.
The new government, elected into office on Jan. 16, took power on May 20 when Ma’s second term came to an end.
Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) repeated on Wednesday a previous statement that Taiwan’s government believes South China Sea claimants should justify their claims based on international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and settle their disputes by peaceful means.
“We propose that Taiwan should be included in a multilateral mechanism for peacefully settling disputes” in the South China Sea, Huang said.
(By Tang Pei-chun, Sophia Yeh and Evelyn Kao)