At 1,400 meters long and 400 meters wide, Itu Aba in the Asian tropics best support coconut palms and normally that would be about all. No wonder it was “rather primitive” when Taipei-based scholar Lin Chong-pin visited about 10 years ago. Now it’s changing. Itu Aba, known also as Taiping Island, has an airport and a number of fresh water wells – unusual finds for the coral atoll. Last year a crew of legislators visited to watch their coast guard do live-fire drills with 140 grenade, mortars and machine guns. Officials in Taipei said last week the islet is now in line for a $112 million dock, big enough for warships, by 2016. The airstrip will be upgraded as well.
“It is my sense that Taipei feels that it is important to have the ability to support a greater presence both to protect its fishermen in general and to demonstrate its legitimate role in support of its extensive claims,” says Alan Romberg, East Asia program director at The Stimson Center, a U.S. public policy institute.
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