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TAIPEI, Taiwan—President Ma Ying-jeou is visiting Taiwan’s largest island holding in the South China Sea, defying criticism from his country’s biggest ally, the United States.
Ma departed the capital Taipei early Thursday aboard an air force C-130 cargo plane bound for Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba.
READ: Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou to visit disputed island for first time
Taiping is the largest naturally occurring island in the highly disputed Spratly island group, an area where Taiwan shares overlapping claims with China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
However, the island has been eclipsed in size by China’s ongoing program of creating man-made islands out of reefs and shoals.
Taiwan stations about 200 coast guard personnel, scientists and medical workers on the island.
The U. S. State Department said Wednesday the visit could exacerbate tensions in the strategically vital region.
READ: US criticizes planned island visit by Taiwan president