Taiwan to ship artillery, mortars to Spratlys

Posted at 07/24/2012 6:40 PM | Updated as of 07/24/2012 6:40 PM

TAIPEI - Taiwan will add longer-range artillery and mortars to weaponry deployed in the South China Sea, officials and media said Tuesday, in a move that could ratchet up tensions in the contested area.

An undisclosed number of 40mm artillery and 120mm mortars will be transported next month to Taiping Island, the biggest in the Spratly archipelago, the United Evening News reported.

"True, the weapons will be shipped to Taiping in August but we can't reveal the specific date," said a spokesman for Taiwan's coast guard, which is in charge of Taiping's defense and has placed a 130-strong force there.

The Spratly islands are claimed partially or in their entirety by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.

According to the newspaper, the range of the 120mm mortars is 6.1 kilometers (3.8 miles), compared with 4.1 kilometers for the mortars currently in use by Taiwanese coastguards on Taiping Island.

Meanwhile, the range of the 40mm artillery is 10 kilometers, 30 percent further than the guns currently deployed, it said.

Tensions in the South China Sea have risen recently, with China and the Philippines locked in a maritime dispute over the Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippine coast.

Calls for an increase in Taiwan's defense capability in the Spratlys have been on the rise, with rival claimants deploying more troops and adding military facilities in the area.

In May, Taiwanese coastguards said the number of intruding Vietnamese boats last year surged to 106, up from 42 the year before.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which have a total land mass of less than five square kilometers (2 square miles).