Taiwan's security chief visits disputed islands

: A handout picture received from Taiwan's National Security Council on September 1, 2012 shows National security council chief Hu Wei-jen (2nd L) at Taiping, the biggest islet of the disputed Spratlys on August 31, 2012.

TAIPEI - Taiwan's security chief and several top officials have visited contested islands in the South China Sea to press Taipei's claim to the disputed territory, the government said Saturday.

National security council chief Hu Wei-jen, Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan, coast guard chief Wang Jinn-wang and other officials landed at Taiping, the biggest islet in the Spratlys, on Friday on a military jet, the council said.

The officials visited Taiwanese troops stationed on the islet to declare Taiwan's "indisputable" sovereignty over the archipelago but urged all parties to put aside their differences to develop the islands, it said in a statement.

Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim all or part of the Spratlys - an area thought to contain large oil reserves.

In July, Taiwanese authorities sent longer-range artillery and mortars to Taiping and said it planned to conduct a live-fire military drill there in September, in a move that angered Vietnam.

All claimants except Brunei have troops based on the group of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, which are spread across a vast area but have a total land mass of less than five square kilometres (two square miles).

The rival claims have long made the South China Sea one of Asia's potential military flashpoints, and tensions have escalated over the past year.

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