09/10/2011, 00.00
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Taiwan inaugurates solar project in Taiping, to control the Spratly

Behind the promotion of alternative energies, the real goal: to extend its influence on a strategic island in the South China Sea. The area is at the centre of a bitter dispute between the nations of the Asia-Pacific. The project costs an estimated 770 thousand dollars and will be completed in six months.
Taipei (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Taiwan government has begun installing a solar panel system, to overcome - at least in part - the energy needs of the small island of Taiping. It is located within the Spratly islands, which together with Paracel islands, form part of the South China Sea in the centre of a bitter dispute between Beijing and several nations in Southeast Asia. For decades Taipei has occupied this small portion of territory within the entire archipelago, analysts and international policy experts judge the Taiwanese government's move a "soft approach", aimed at to reinforcing the hegemony and control of the islet.

A ceremony launching the project was held on 7 September, in a park not far from the island’s small airport. The decision to construct a solar plant in Taiping, complete with a public event, seems to confirm the line taken by President Ma Ying-jeou, which aims to reaffirm Taiwan’s sovereignty over the Spratly Islands. The opening ceremony of the project – estimated at about 770 thousand dollars - was attended by officials from the Ministry of the Interior and Defense, the Taiwan Coast Guard (CGA) and Taiwan Power Company engineers.

The solar energy project - ready in six months - will replace the diesel-electric generator, as the first source of electricity production on the island within the next year. It will be able to generate about 120kilowatts of energy, helping to decrease the use of coal and to conserve ecosystems and the environment "for sustainable development of the South China Sea," said Hu Chung-an, a spokesman for GCI.

The island of Taiping is the largest of the archipelago and the only one to have fresh water among all of the Spratly islands, at the centre of an international dispute that involves the entire Asia-Pacific. Since March, there have been continuing tensions between Beijing, Manila and Hanoi for control over ever larger portions of territory, while Taipei has maintained a more moderate and cautious line.

Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China has advanced the greatest claims that regarding maritime borders, including the Spratly Islands and Paracel archipelago (see AsiaNews, 07/05/2010 Tokyo and Hanoi to challenge Chinese sovereignty in the East/South East China Sea). Its hegemony is of strategic importance for trade, the exploitation of oil, raw materials and fish. Contesting Beijing’s expansionist ambitions are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei and Taiwan, as well as the U.S. which defends its strategic interests in the area.

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