A Taiwanese naval Lafayette-class frigate (L) and a coast guard frigate setting sail from the island's southern port of Kaohsiung. Taiwan's navy said last month it would upgrade the 25-year-old missile interference system of its French-built frigates. Photo: AFP

One of the least vocal claimants to disputed islands in the South China Sea has announced activity that some analysts worry will stir the pot, even as other countries in the region seem to be making some progress in laying ground rules.

Taiwan’s coast guard will conduct what it described as “routine” live-fire training exercises later this month near Taiping Island, the Spratly archipelago’s largest natural island, Voice of America reported. It is not clear whether vessels from Taiwan’s navy will participate.

Analysts quoted by the US government-backed news agency said the activity would likely face protest from China and other countries that lay claim to territory in the disputed waters.

“I don’t know what is meant by ‘routine’ here, but if it is some sort of military exercise, I don’t think it is routine,” Oh Ei Sun of Singapore Nanyang University said.

“That would definitely upset the status quo,” he stressed. “And you have to prepare to face the consequences. That means others will stage similar exercises and there will be a new round of mutual condemnations.”

Last week, Vietnam denounced the planned exercises according to local news reports, that said Taiwan would be using grenade launchers, among other weapons, in the drill.

Drills around Taiping Island “threaten peace, stability, maritime safety and security, create tension and complicate the situation in the South China Sea,” a Vietnamese spokeswoman was quoted as saying.

The controversial activity comes as negotiations between China and other claimants on the establishment of a binding code of conduct for activity in the region appear to be gaining momentum. Taiwan, which along with mainland China claims most of the disputed territory, is not a party to the talks.

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