Taiping Island

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Taiping Island
Disputed island
Other names: Itu Aba, Tàipíng Dǎo (太平島), Ligaw, Ligao, Đảo Ba Bình, Huángshānmǎ Jiāo (黃山馬礁), Huángshānmǎ Zhì (黃山馬峙), Nagashima (長島)
Taiping Island and Zhongzhou Reef ISS.jpg
International Space Station photograph of Taiping Island (left) and Zhongzhou Reef (right)
Taiping Island is located in South China Sea
Taiping Island
Taiping Island (South China Sea)
Location South China Sea
Coordinates 10°22′30″N 114°22′0″E / 10.37500°N 114.36667°E / 10.37500; 114.36667Coordinates: 10°22′30″N 114°22′0″E / 10.37500°N 114.36667°E / 10.37500; 114.36667
Archipelago Spratly Islands
Area 46 hectares (110 acres)
Length 1,400 metres (1,500 yd)
Width 400 metres (440 yd)
Administered by
Republic of China
Municipality Cijin, Kaohsiung
Claimed by
People's Republic of China
City Sansha, Hainan
Municipality Kalayaan, Palawan
District Truong Sa, Khanh Hoa
Population approx. 600 military, coast guard and support personnel

Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba Island and by various other names, is the largest of the naturally occurring[1] Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[2][3][4][5] The island is elliptical in shape being 1.4 kilometres (0.87 mi) in length and 0.4 kilometres (0.25 mi) in width, with an area of 46 hectares (110 acres). It is part of the Tizard Bank (Zheng He Reefs; 鄭和群礁). The runway of the Taiping Island Airport is easily the most prominent feature on the island, running its entire length.

The island is administered by the Republic of China (Taiwan), as part of Cijin, Kaohsiung. It is also claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The nearby Zhongzhou Reef is also under the control of the ROC.


Taiping Island (Chinese: 太平島; pinyin: Tàipíng Dǎo; literally: "peace island") was named in honor of a Nationalist Chinese Navy warship which sailed to the island in 1946,[6] when Japan surrendered the South China Sea Islands to China after the Second World War.[7] The name Taiping Island is used by both Taipei[8] and Beijing.[9] The island was also called Huángshānmǎ Jiāo () and Huángshānmǎ Zhì () by Chinese fishermen.

Another commonly used international name for the island is Itu Aba. At least three different etymological origins have been proposed for this name: that it is a Malay expression meaning "What's that?" (spelled itu apa in the current orthography); a corruption of Hainanese Widuabe (Huángshānmǎ ()), or that it was named after two Vietnamese maids (Tu and Ba) of a French Indochina official charged with mapping the Spratly Islands. Some nonpartisan sources including U.S. government publications continue to use "Itu Aba" as the primary designator of the land feature, often with "Taiping" in parentheses.

The Vietnamese name for the island is Ba Binh (Chinese: 波平; Vietnamese: Đảo Ba Bình; literally "calm wave" or "calm sea")[10][11] and the Philippine name is Ligao (or Ligaw), meaning "lost" or "wild" island.

During the Japanese occupation of the island 1939-45, the name Nagashima (長島?, Long Island) was used.[12]


China first asserted sovereignty in the modern sense to the South China Sea’s island when it formally objected to France’s efforts to incorporate Itu Aba and other islands and rocks into French Indochina during the 1884 – 1885 Sino-French war. The 1887 boundary convention signed between France and China places the Spratly and Paracel islands under Vietnamese rule.[citation needed] Chinese maps since then have consistently shown China’s claims, first as a solid and then as a dotted line.

At first, France recognized Chinese sovereignty of Spratly and Paracel islands, in exchange for Chinese recognition of Vietnam as a French territory.[citation needed] In 1932, a year after the Japanese formally invaded northeast China (Manchuria), France formally claimed both the Paracel and Spratly Islands. China and Japan both protested. In 1933, France seized the Paracels and Spratlys, announced their annexation, formally included them in French Indochina, and built a couple of weather stations on them, but did not disturb the numerous Chinese fishermen it found there. In 1938 Japan took the islands from France, garrisoned them, and built a submarine base at Itu Aba (now Taiping / 太平) Island. In 1941, the Japanese Empire made the Paracel and Spratly islands part of Taiwan, then under its rule.

In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province. The island was claimed by the French as part of French Indochina in 1887. They occupied it in 1932 to assert control, and in reaction to a 1932 protest by the Chinese of their sovereignty of the Paracels.[13] During World War II, it was invaded by Japan and converted to a submarine base.[14] It was administratively attached to the municipality of Takao (Kaohsiung) in the Japanese colony of Taiwan.

On 6 November 1946, the ROC government sent four warships to the South China Sea to secure islands within the region, commanded by Lin Zun and Yao Ruyu (姚汝鈺): ROCS Chung-Yeh (中業號), ROCS Yung-hsing (永興號), ROCS Tai-ping (太平號) and ROCS Chung-chien (中建號). The warships departed from Guangzhou and headed towards the Spratly and Paracel island groups. On 12 December the two ships led by Lin Zun, ROCS Tai-ping and ROCS Chung-Yeh, arrived at Taiping Island. In commemoration of the island being secured, the island was chosen to be named after the ROCS Tai-ping warship, and thus a stone stele reading "Taiping island" was erected on a breakwater tip southwest of the island.[6] The other three ships likewise had their names used: Woody Island (in the Paracels) was named Yongxing (Yung-hsing) Island (presently PRC-occupied), Triton Island (Paracels) was named Zhongjian (Chung-chien) Island (presently PRC-occupied), and Thitu Island (Spratlys) was named Zhongye (Chung-Yeh) Island (presently Philippines-occupied).

After being secured by Nationalist China, the island was placed under the administration of China's Guangdong Province. When the Chinese Communists gained control of mainland China, the defeated Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, but retained control of the Taiping garrison.[15] Japan officially renounced its control and transferred the island to the trusteeship of the Allied Powers within the San Francisco Peace Treaty on September 8, 1951.[16] A different interpretation is that Japan officially renounced its sovereignty and transferred the island to the Republic of China under the provisions of the Taipei Peace Treaty.[when?][17]

In 1952, a Philippine civilian began to mine sulfur from Taiping Island and that same year, a note attached to the Treaty of Taipei provided the Nationalist Chinese arguments for sovereignty over the island. The Nationalists established a permanent presence on the island in July 1956.[18]

From 2000, a detachment of the ROC Coast Guard Administration was stationed on the island, replacing the Marine Corps detachment. The Taiping Island Airport was completed in December 2007,[19] and a C-130 Hercules transporter airplane first landed on the island on 21 January 2008.

On 2 February 2008, ROC president Chen Shui-bian personally visited the island accompanied by a significant naval force including two fleets with Kidd class destroyer flagships and two submarines.[20] On 19 April 2011, it was announced that the Marine Corps would once again be stationed on the island.[21]

In February 2012, the ROC began construction of an antenna tower and associated facilities with the purpose of providing navigation assistance for aircraft landing. The tower had a planned height of approximately 7 to 8 metres, and was scheduled to be completed in April 2012, and fully functional after proper testing in September 2012.[22] In July 2012, ROC authorities revealed a project which intended to extend the runway by 500 metres, which would allow the island to accommodate various kinds of military aircraft.[23]

In late August 2013, the ROC government announced that it would spend US$112 million on upgrading the island's airstrip, and constructing a dock capable of allowing its 3,000-ton Coast Guard cutters to dock, due to be completed by 2016.[24]

Government and politics[edit]

The island, along with the rest of the Spratlys, is disputed by four countries on historical, geographic, legal and/or technical grounds, in pursuit of fishing rights, shipping lanes, and the potential of petroleum and natural gas beneath the South China Sea. Although it is anticipated that the South China Sea basin is abundant in oil and natural gas, the waters surrounding Taiping Island have yet to be formally surveyed or extracted. Kuomintang legislator Lin Yu-fang has stated that the Chinese Petroleum Corporation has not excluded the option of prospecting territorial waters in the near future, with the military providing naval escort assistance upon directive from the National Security Council of the Republic of China.[25]

Taiping Island is administered under the Municipality of Kaohsiung City, Qijin District, by the Republic of China (Taiwan). Postal service is provided by Chunghwa Post under the assigned area code "819". The Republic of China (Taiwan) military postal service uses the designation "68局" for postage services for the island. The total population of the island is about 600 with no civilians. Land pricing is managed by the Kaohsiung local government, although there have been no cases of actual transactions being made. In 2007, the announced land value adjustments placed the value of land on Taiping Island at NT$400 per square metre.

Prior to 2012, the island's coast guard defense forces held 106mm recoilless guns and 81mm mortars. These were planned to be replaced by eight sets of 40mm autocannons and a number of 120mm mortars by the end of August 2012.[26]


There are four existing wells on the Taiping Island. The proportion of freshwater in four of them is 99.1, 75.8, 97.5, and 96.8 percent, respectively, averaging 92.3 percent. About 65 metric tons of water can be pumped from these wells daily to provide drinking water and meet cooking and everyday needs. Apart from well water, there are water-retaining facilities mainly used for farming.[27]

Prior to the use of solar power, facilities on the island were powered mainly by five 200 kW diesel generators; all fuel is shipped from the Taiwanese main island. In December 2001, solar energy devices of 20.3 kW capacity were erected as backup power. Since December 2014 the island has also been powered by a 40 kW photovoltaic power station with a 612 kW storage facility that will generate an estimated 50MWh per year. The project was divided into two phases: the first phase was completed in December 2011, and the second in December 2014. The entire solar power system will generate an estimated 189,492 kWh per year, saving an estimated 49,000 litres of diesel fuel per year. It was funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.[28]

There is a shelter for fishermen, a hospital (including a civilian doctor), weather stations, satellite telecommunications facilities, radar surveillance equipment and other communications equipment located on the island. There are five public telephones which are connected via satellite. There is also internet connectivity on the island. Mobile phone reception is available for individuals with international roaming; a signal from Vietnam Military Electronics and Telecommunications (Viettel Mobile) reaches the island from a GSM base station on Namyit Island, and a signal from China Mobile can be accessed from a GSM base station located on Nanxun Reef. In 2013, Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom established a satellite-based cellular base station on the island to provide the coast guard with communication services.

Bridge piers were constructed in 1992, but are damaged and have yet to be repaired. Since there are many reefs around the island and the surrounding water is too shallow, transportation and supply vessels are unable to dock with the island itself. Supplies are loaded on to rafts and taken to and from shore from an anchorage about 1.2 nautical miles from the island. Supplies are transferred with a safety load of 10 tons, and there is a high degree of difficulty due to the risk of large waves; rubber rafts carrying supplies and maintenance require time-consuming and difficult manual handling.

Three ROC Coast Guard boats of the M8 model, designated Nanhai 4, Nanhai 5 and Nanhai 6 (Chinese: 南海四號,南海五號,南海六號, "Nanhai" literally translates to "South Sea" or "South China Sea") are prepared to patrol the island but are not considered sufficient to adequately monitor the island's surroundings. In December 2006, rebuilding began on a damaged L-shaped pier, the Southern Star Ferry Pier (Chinese: 南星碼頭), in order to improve the transportation and supply of materials for the Coast Guard. Currently,[when?] a military supply ship services the island during a single voyage in April and November each year, anchoring for one day to deliver personnel and military supplies. Additionally, a civil merchantman arrives with general goods every 20 days, anchoring for 1 to 2 days at a time. This ship may be used as a transport for stationed personnel.

The island has a helicopter platform that is not used frequently. The Taiping Island Airport features an airstrip which caters for C-130 transport planes of the ROC Air Force, with one sortie arriving every two months; there are no re-fueling facilities. Depending on sources, the runway is 1150 or 1200 metres long, 30 metres wide, and has a large hard-standing area capable of accommodating two C-130 aircraft; there have been a number of plans to lengthen the runway.

Taiwan (ROC) maintains a large meteorological station on Taiping island. The station collects weather information using surface instruments, and launches weather balloons daily.[29] The ROC Central Weather Bureau has an employee presence on the island.



The flora and fauna present on and surrounding the island include swallows, papaya plant, coast oak, terminalia trees, lotus leaf tung tree, goodeniaceae, sea lemon, long stem chrysanthemum, long-saddle rattan, gray grass, coconut tree, banana tree, White-tailed Tropical Bird, Sparrow hawk, tropical fish, jellyfish and various other organisms.

Geology and landform[edit]

The island has a long and narrow shape that is low and flat, that is approximately 1,289.3m long and 365.7m wide. The area of the north-south coastline is 41.3 hectares, and the coastal vegetation line range is 36.6 hectares. The mean tide water over land area is approximately 49 hectares (0.49 square km), and during low sea tides the water reefs and land area is 98 hectares (0.98 square km), 4-6m above sea level.

Since Taiping island is a coral island, the surface includes fine sand and coral reefs formed by weathering. Around the island are sandy beaches, with narrower beaches on the south and north sides 5 metres wide, on the east side 20 metres wide, and on the southwest side 50 metres wide. The sand accumulated on the beach is rosy coloured, mainly formed from red coral fragments and shell debris.

Natural resources[edit]

The island has historically been mined for phosphates to the point of exhaustion, and today has no major natural resources. There is potentially a large amount of undiscovered reserves of oil and natural gas beneath surrounding waters within the South China Sea Basin, however there has yet to be formal exploration and mining conducted.


Taiping Island has a tropical climate, with the temperature varying between 21 and 35 degrees Celsius. There is a strong southwest monsoon in summer months in June and July, with strong southwest wind and currents, and during the time typhoons become frequent there is abundant rainfall. The rainy season occurs during November and December.

Tourist attractions[edit]

A temple on the island exists as a common visiting place. The southeast side of the island contains old Japanese constructions. The "Taiping Cultural Park" (Chinese: 太平文化公園) is located near the pier. There is also a pillar erected on the island that declares Taiping Island as a territory of the Republic of China.

Sister Cities[edit]

The following are sister cities with Taiping Island:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Note that in 2014 the PRC embarked on a number of reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands. It appears that the largest of these, at Fiery Cross Reef is of at least 60 hectares, and according to some unverifiable sources, possibly as large as 150 ha. Kristine Kwok and Minnie Chan (2014-06-08). "China plans artificial island in disputed Spratlys chain in South China Sea". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2014-09-28. 
  2. ^ C.Michael Hogan (2011) South China Sea Topic ed. P.Saundry. Ed.-in-chief C.J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  3. ^ "Taiping Island". Spratly islands. Marine National Park Headquarters (Republic of China). Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "Itu Aba - Inquirer Global Nation". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 19 Aug 2014. 
  5. ^ Michael Gold. "Taiwan Considers Permanent Armed Ships For Disputed South China Sea Island". Reuters. Retrieved 16 Oct 2014. 
  6. ^ a b 吕一燃 (Lu Yiran), 2007. 中国近代边界史 (A modern history of China's borders), Vol. 2. 四川人民出版社 (Sichuan People's Publishing), pp.1092-1093. ISBN 7220073313
  7. ^ "Itu Aba Island [Taiping Island], Spratly Islands". GlobalSecurity.org. 9 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Soong, Grace, "Taiping Island camp shows sovereignty: Ma", The China Post, July 19, 2011.
  9. ^ Zhu Xianlong, "Commentary: Taiwan Independence No Easy Thing", People's Daily Online, August 14, 2002.
  10. ^ "VN demands a stop to violation of sovereignty", Vietnam+, May 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Historical documents on Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands", VietNamNet, June 24, 2011.
  12. ^ D. J. Hancox, John Robert Victor Prescott, (1997). Secret hydrographic surveys in the Spratly Islands. Maritime Institute of Malaysia, p.91. ISBN 9839275100
  13. ^ Ben Cahoon. "Paracel and Spratly Islands - timeline". www.worldstatesmen.org. 
  14. ^ Sopheada Phy, (2010). The Management of the Spratly Islands Conflict: Success Or Failure? GRIN Verlag, p.2. ISBN 3640602722
  15. ^ Spratly Islands. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  16. ^ "Cable: 1973MANILA00858_b - Spratley Islands". www.wikileaks.org. 23 January 1973. 
  17. ^ "Taipei Peace Treaty". Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  18. ^ Severino, Rodolfo, Where in the World Is the Philippines?: Debating Its National Territory, 2011, p. 79, ISBN 978-981431170-0.
  19. ^ "MND admits strategic value of Spratly airstrip." Taipei Times. 6 January 2006. p. 2 (MND is the ROC Ministry of National Defense)
  20. ^ Shih Hsiu-chuan, Hsu Shao-hsuan, and Jimmy Chuang. "President visits disputed islands." Taipei Times. 3 February 2008. p. 1.
  21. ^ Cindy Sui, 19 April 2011, Taiwan to boost forces in disputed Spratly Islands, BBC News
  22. ^ 6 February 2012, 太平島 將建助導航塔, Liberty Times
  23. ^ July 15, 2012, Taiwan mulls extending runway in Spratlys: report[dead link], The West Australian
  24. ^ 2013-09-02, Taiwan Plans New Infrastructure for Disputed South China Sea Claim, Voice of America
  25. ^ 蕭照平, 3 May 2012, 太平島勘油軍艦護航?國防部:跟海巡署協調, China Times. (WebCite archive)
  26. ^ Joseph Yeh, 25 July 2012, Cannons and mortars to be deployed on Taiping in South China Sea: MND, The China Post (Taiwan)
  27. ^ "ROC Minister of the Interior Chen Wei-zen presides over a ceremony marking the opening of a wharf and lighthouse on Taiping Island" (Press release). Ministry of Interior (ROC, Taiwan). 12 Dec 2015. Retrieved 13 Jan 2016. 
  28. ^ "Solar power system expanded on Taiping Island". Focus Taiwan. 14 Dec 2014. 
  29. ^ "ROC to upgrade weather stations in disputed Spratlys". Government of Taiwan. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  30. ^ "InterLinc - City of Lincoln - Mayor's Dept Sister Cities". City of Lincoln, Nebraska. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Glossary of Names for Admin Divisions" (PDF). placesearch.moi.gov.tw. Ministry of Interior of the ROC. Retrieved 12 June 2015.