• Taiping Island has been under Taiwan's control since 1956
  • Taiwan said it had the right to conduct exercises at Taiping
  • Both parties made no mention of the weapons used 

The South China Sea has witnessed further tensions after the Philippines lashed out at Taiwan for conducting live-fire drills off the disputed Taiping Island, the largest island of the Spratly archipelago.

The two-day exercise that began Tuesday off Taiping Island (called Ligaw in the Philippines) irked Manila, which described it as an "illegal activity" that "raises tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea."

"The Philippines expresses its strong objection over the unlawful live-fire drills conducted by Taiwan (China) on 28 to 29 June 2022 within the vicinity of Ligaw Island. Ligaw Island is an integral part of the Kalayaan Island Group over which the Philippines has sovereignty," the Department of Foreign Affairs was quoted by Philippine News Agency, the official news agency of the Philippine government.

Taiping Island has been under Taiwan's control since 1956 though both the Philippines and Vietnam claim rights over the territory. The island is located in the northwestern part of the Spratly Islands and is 1,500 km from Taiwan, 777 km from Vietnam and 853 km from the Philippines.

Taiwan had carried out drills on the island earlier too, which saw Vietnam voicing its protest. Hanoi had joined Manila recently in protesting the island's plan to extend Taiping’s runway to facilitate the landing and take-off of fighter jets and anti-submarine aircraft.

However, Taipei reacted strongly to Manila's statement by reiterating its right to conduct live-fire drills on Taiping. "We have the right to conduct regular exercises at Taiping and its surrounding waters," the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted.

The ministry said in a statement that the government had issued notices beforehand to warn nearby vessels about the drills. "Disputes in the region should be settled peacefully by all parties concerned, and in accordance with international law," the ministry added.

Interestingly, there was no word from either Taipei or Manila about the weapons used during the two days of live-fire drills. However, a report by South China Morning Post said the war games would feature Taiwan's homegrown Kestrel anti-tank systems.

The shoulder-launched systems can penetrate up to 60cm (23.6 inches) of reinforced concrete, making them effective in countering potential amphibious attacks from the People’s Liberation Army, the report added. Taiwan has recently decided to deploy 292 Kestrel anti-armour rockets to Taiping and the Pratas Islands another South China Sea islet cluster controlled by Taipei.

Taipei took the decision to deploy the MANPADS on these islands following speculation that China might try to capture the Pratas Islands as part of "reunifying" Taiwan.

An aerial view of Spratly Islands. Reuters/U.S. Navy