Honolulu (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has queried an official of the ruling Kuomintang Party about Taiwan's reported plan to deploy missile-capable warships to the disputed Spratly Islands, but was told no such plan existed.
Aquino told reporters that he met with Lian Cheng on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit on Saturday during which he asked about the report and other economic issues.
The President appeared miffed that the Taiwanese official denied knowledge of any plan to raise the ante in the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"Wasn't it in the newspapers that they will deploy missiles? Correct me if I'm wrong but they said that as far as they know, there is no such plan," he said.
Aquino was referring to wire reports in June which quoted a defense ministry spokesperson as saying that Taiwan was planning to deploy vessels armed with missiles and tanks to the disputed Spratlys as regional tensions mounted.
Taiwan's defense ministry said at the time, it feared that its Coast Guard now stationed in the Spratlys, claimed by six nations, and the Pratas Islands, claimed by China, might not be heavily equipped to handle potential conflicts.
"The missile boats and tanks are an option we've offered to the Coast Guard," said David Lo.
Taiwan's Coast Guard currently has a garrison on Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratly archipelago, which has a runway to facilitate logistical support.
Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia and the Philippines claim all or part of the Spratlys, believed to be potentially rich in oil.
"We told them that if you introduce more sophisticated weapons into a weapons-free zone, tensions will be raised and that's not in their interest," Aquino said. "I understand that they don't have any interest to do so," the President said, referring to reaction to his advice.
The Philippines' adherence to a one-China policy prevents President Aquino from meeting officially with those of Taiwan. He disclosed that Lian did not formally represent Taiwan.
"He is, I think, at most the honorary chair of the Kuomintang party but he is not a government official," Aquino said.
He said the Taiwanese side committed to look into allegations that placement fees amounting to as much as US$3,000 were being collected from Filipino workers in Taiwan despite a law in Taiwan that banned the activity.
"So they will pay for it between five to six months of working there. The placement fee that we didn't collect would be paid there," the President said.
"Now, why did it reach six months? There are also fees for dormitory, board and lodging and so on. So, the contract runs for two years and 35 per cent of that would go to placement fees that shouldn't be collected," he said. "Their answer was they would look into the situation and would correct it."
Aquino also disclosed that the Taiwanese official had asked to be given visa-free privilege to enter Manila.
He said that he turned down the request and told the official that what the Philippines could only do at this time was to speed up the process of providing the visas.
"They send something like 134 or so thousand of tourists to the Philippines every year," he explained.
"And why did we deny the request? I told them the drug problem, for instance, wherein many of those we arrest have Chinese-sounding names," he said. "It might be difficult to screen those who come to our shores." With a report from AFP
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