Taiwan redeploys soldiers to South China Sea for training: source

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, front in white shirt) gives thumbs up to Taiwanese marines / File photo taken from President Tsai's Facebook page.

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwanese marines have been temporarily deployed to the Pratas Islands (東沙島) in the South China Sea amid reports the Chinese military plans to conduct drills in the area in August, a defense official confirmed Monday.

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said a number of Marines are on the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands, for what the official described as a training mission.

He said the mission, which will only last a short amount of time, is aimed at strengthening the defense capabilities and other logistical and equipment maintenance skills of the Taiwanese Coast Guard officers stationed on the island.

The official did not reveal other details, such as the number of Marines deployed, when they arrived on the islands, and how long they will stay.

CNA file photo

Taiwan’s Presidential Office hinted at the deployment Saturday when it said in a statement that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called a commander and asked him to take good care of soldiers on the Pratas Islands.

The move came after Japan’s Kyodo News reported on May 12 that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is planning to hold a large-scale beach landing exercise in the area in August to simulate a takeover of the Pratas Islands.

According to the report, which did not cite its sources, the Pratas Islands are significant to Beijing as they sit at a strategic crossroads that Chinese warships have to pass when going to the Pacific from Hainan province.

Taiwan, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim all or part of the South China Sea region as their territory.

Taiwan’s military recalled all soldiers stationed on the main island features it holds in the South China Sea — Taiping Island and the Pratas Islands — in 2000 and replaced them with Coast Guard personnel, who are not considered part of the military.

The move was made as a show of goodwill to de-escalate tensions in the area and remove the military implications of conducting patrol missions in the region.