The military yesterday confirmed a media report saying that a Republic of China Navy frigate had been monitored by a US anti-submarine aircraft as the vessel returned to Taiwan from Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) on May 25, but dismissed claims that the US action was “irregular.”
The Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) reported yesterday that a La Fayette-class frigate was overseen by a patrolling US P-3C aircraft as it returned from a fishing boat protection mission near the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) on May 25 at 4:35pm.
The report said that the US plane had lowered and circled the ship twice, close enough that the naval personnel onboard could see US insignia on the plane.
The report added that the US’ “irregular” action showed that Taipei and Washington might be having confidence issues.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) told a press conference that the Taiwanese navy has conducted patrols and supply missions to Taiping Island for decades.
The US knew about the mission, and there are no trust issues between Taiwan and the US, he said, adding that the countries communicate regularly on military affairs.
Navy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Hsu Pei-shan (許培山) said at the conference that the frigate conducted a supply mission to Itu Aba between May 20 and May 28.
The vessel was 89 nautical miles (165km) from Itu Aba on its way to Taiwan proper when its crew noticed an unidentified aircraft 5 nautical miles away, he said.
The aircraft always kept the same distance from the frigate, and did not descend and circle the ship as the report claimed.
Hsu added that since the ship maintained radio silence throughout the trip, the airplane might have had to move closer to identify it, signifying that the ship was well concealed.
The vice admiral added that since Taiwan and the US are on friendly terms, the navy did not deem it necessary to ask the US about the matter.
Hsu said that as warships navigate the seas, nations in the surrounding areas may monitor them, which is seen internationally as an accepted practice.
“During my many experiences aboard naval ships headed to the area around the Spratlys, we often saw unidentified crafts in the air or on the water. It is unreasonable to presume they are aiming at us,” Hsu added.