The government of Taiwan will be dispatching vessels to explore oil and natural gas resources in the waters around Taiping Island in the South China Sea next year, economic officials said Thursday.
Director-General Jerry Ou of the Energy Bureau under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said the bureau has earmarked NT$17 million to the MOEA's Bureau of Mine to finance its plan to explore natural resources around Taiwan's southernmost island.
“The exploration project is expected to officially kick off in January 2013,” he said during a legislative session in Taipei.
The official said Taiwan relies on imports for more than 98 percent of its energy, and therefore it is a top priority for the government to explore new energy sources around its territories.
Speaking on the same occasion, Tseng Pe-ru of the Energy Bureau added that the Bureau of Mine will be responsible for carrying out the project.
Her bureau will join hands with the state-run oil refiner CPC Corp., Taiwan to dispatch research teams to conduct tests and take samples on potential oil and gas reserves in waters around the island.
The one-year project is expected to offer Taiwanese authorities a clearer picture of energy sources in the South China Sea, she added.
The two MOEA officials made the comments during a question-and-answer session at the Legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee yesterday.
Their remarks came in response to a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker's call that the government actively engage in natural resource exploration near the biggest island in the Spratly chain.
According to the KMT's Lin Yu-fang, the Taiwan-controlled island recently enhanced its defense capability in September with eight sets of 40 mm autocannons and a number of 120 mm mortars.
The military enhancement is expected to help the government better explore the region, he added.
Taiping Island is the biggest island in the Spratly chain and is currently manned by more than 100 Coast Guard personnel from Taiwan.
The 0.49-square-kilometer island lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan.
Mainland China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also claim all or part of the Spratly archipelago.