Taiwan, one of the countries laying territorial claims over the islands of the South China Sea, has laid down plans to start exploring for oil and natural gas resources in the waters around Taiping Island in 2013.
"The exploration project is expected to officially kick off in January 2013," he said during a legislative session in Taipei," local media reports quoted Jerry Ou, director-general of the Energy Bureau under Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), as saying.
Taiwan, which imports 98 per cent its energy requirements, said the exploration project is a government priority that will run for one year. Some NT$17 million has been allocated for the exploration project.
Taiping Island is considered the largest island in the highly contested Spratly Islands chain. At present, the 0.49-square-kilometer island, which lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan, is being guarded by more than 100 Taiwanese Coast Guard personnel.
The Taiwan-controlled island, home to one of the only two airstrips in the area that can accommodate large aircraft, likewise has abundant fisheries and ample supply of fresh water. It is situated 800km from the Scarborough Shoal, less than 600km from Vietnam's coast and 500km from the Philippines island of Palawan.
Apart from Taiwan, others laying territorial claims on theSpratly archipelago include Malaysia, Mainland China, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.