The government is studying the possibility of sending warships to protect Taiwanese fishing boats in the waters off Somalia, a high-ranking official at the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said yesterday.
MAC Deputy Minister Chao Chien-min (趙建民) said that national security agencies were assessing the feasibility, but he was not certain when the assessment would be complete.
Chao made the remarks in response to media inquiries on Beijing’s call that Taiwanese fishing boats apply for protection by Chinese warships.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) said on Tuesday that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of China and that people in all three places are Chinese. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety of overseas Chinese and there is no exception in the waters around Somalia, he said.
Chao yesterday said that many Taiwanese ships operate around the piracy-plagued Gulf of Aden. Many countries have sent their warships to ensure the safety of shipping in the area and, as far as he knew, 45 warships have been dispatch to the area, including three by the Chinese, Chao said.
As Taiwan and the US have long been cooperating on anti-terrorism projects, Chao said the administration had been in close contact with Washington as well as with the EU to ask for their assistance to help protect Taiwanese fishing boats in the area.
“Our main concern is safety of the boats and the people on board,” Chao said. “Based on humanitarian reasons, we would not reject any assistance immediately available to them.”
While Taiwanese fishing boats can file for protection from China through the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), Chao said the administration had not yet authorized the SEF to take up such a task.
When asked whether potential applicants would violate any law by filing for protection directly with the Chinese government, Chao said it would “run against due procedure” as they must do so via the SEF and that he believed such a scenario would not happen.
About 100 ships, including several Chinese vessels, have been attacked by Somali pirates since the beginning of last year.
China warned Somali pirates last month it was prepared to use force to combat rampant piracy that has disrupted international shipping routes heading to and from the Suez Canal. A fleet of Chinese warships arrived in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in other news, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday vowed to pursue cross-strait relations under the framework of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, saying that he would not discuss unification nor support independence or approve the use of the military.
Ma said such an approach complies with public opinion. As both sides of the Taiwan Strait are willing to improve bilateral relations, Ma said it would be mutually beneficial for both sides to maintain peace and pursue prosperity.
Ma made the remarks while receiving members of the US-based Hip Sing Association at the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon.
The 1994 Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States by Robert J. Kelly, Chin Ko-lin and Rufus Schatzberg says the Hip Sing was established as a benevolent association, as “a protective society for laborers and seamen” they also “functioned as operators of opium, prostitution and gambling dens.”
“Current  concern at the federal level indicates a preoccupation with the tongs’ role in heroin smuggling,” the handbook says.