Verbal spat between Taipei and Manila over Itu Aba in South China Sea

Both countries claim the islet, which is part of the Spratly Islands, but is manned by Taiwan Coast Guard personnel. Naval drills by Taiwan sparked the row. China is not alone in occupying disputed areas.

Taipei (AsiaNews) – Taiwan and the Philippines are at loggerheads over who owns Itu Aba, an islet in the Spratly Islands, South China Sea, which is at the centre of multiple territorial claims starting with China’s (almost 90 per cent).

Today, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said that its Navy has the right to conduct exercises off the island, which it calls Taiping and considers as its own.

Yesterday the Philippines expressed "strong objections" to what it calls Taiwan’s “unlawful” military drills near what it considers the Philippine island of Ligaw.

Both sides claim the small island but Taiwan has actual control and has stationed Coast Guard personnel. Taiwan also administers Pratas (Dongsha) Island in the northern part of the South China Sea.

Several experts speculate that any Chinese invasion of Taiwan could be preceded by a military occupation of Pratas.

Usually, Manila is up against Beijing over sovereign rights in the South China Sea but it is not alone.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and partly Indonesia, opposes China’s territorial claims as well, which has not prevented China from militarising some islands and coral reefs in the sea.

To contain China's expansion, US warships regularly patrol the waters near these military outposts.

According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China has 27 outposts in the region: 20 in the Paracel Islands and seven in the Spratly. Beijing also controls the Scarborough shoal, which is a reason for continued tensions with the Philippines.

Other countries occupy disputed areas in the South China Sea; in addition to the two Taiwan-controlled islands, Malaysia holds five outcrops in the Spratly. The Philippines occupies nine atolls, while Vietnam boasts 49 to 51 outposts on 27 islets.