Taiwan holds media tour to reinforce South China Sea claims

Taiwan's government says it will take international media on a tour of its largest island holding in the South China Sea in a bid to reinforce its territorial claims in the contested region.

Deputy Foreign Minister Bruce Linghu said the trip Wednesday to Taiping aims to counter the Philippines' contention in a case brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration that the island is merely a rock and not entitled to territorial waters and other rights.

Linghu said the visit would demonstrate that Taiping has the ability to sustain human habitation and therefore meets the definition of an island under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. He said Taiping meets that criteria "whether from the perspective of history, geography or international law."

The Philippines "distorted the facts and misinterpreted the law" in its arguments, Linghu told reporters at a briefing Tuesday in the capital, Taipei.

A verdict in the Philippine case arguing against China's vaguely defined claim to virtually the entire South China Sea is expected within months. Taiwan shares an overlapping claim with China, but has remained largely passive among the ongoing disputes.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made a similar push for Taiping's island status during a January visit that was met with a rare dose of criticism from the U.S.

Taiping is the largest naturally occurring island in the Spratly group, where China has been actively producing man-made islands by piling sand atop coral reefs and adding runways, harbors and military installations.

Taiwan, which lacks diplomatic ties to negotiate with the five other governments with claims in the South China Sea, is spending more than $100 million to upgrade the island's airstrip and build a wharf capable of allowing its 3,000-ton coast guard cutters to dock. The island is garrisoned by a coast guard detachment and also has a 10-bed hospital, a lighthouse and an aid station for stricken fishing craft.