The government has staged a joint military-Coast Guard Administration (CGA) protection and rescue exercise in an area where China’s controversial air defense identification zone overlaps with those of Taiwan and Japan in the East China Sea.
The multipurpose drill on Monday last week was seen as an indication that Taiwan is pursuing its own national interests, despite China’s announcement in November last year of a new air defense identification zone that heightened tensions in the region.
The vessels and aircraft involved in the drill moved north toward the nation’s “provisional law enforcement boundary” 270 nautical miles (500km) off the northern tip of Taiwan.
They crossed the air defense identification zones of both China and Japan and moved toward China’s Chunxiao gas field, which is located within the enforcement boundary.
Two coast guard patrol vessels, the Hsin Bei and the Ho-shin, were joined by the navy’s Kang Ding frigate off Keelung and first headed toward Pengchia Islet, about 30 nautical miles away.
Once there, they conducted simulated firings of 20mm and 40mm guns.
They were then joined by an air force S-70C helicopter, which cooperated with the Hsin Bei in a drill simulating the rescue of people from the sea.
As the ships headed further north, they were joined by an S-2T marine patrol aircraft and two F-16 fighter jets, which flew over the Hsin Bei and Kang Ding at an altitude of 152m in an identification and communication drill.
When the vessels and the aircraft reached the northernmost line of the nation’s air defense identification zone, about 133 nautical miles north of Keelung, the Kang Ding and the Feng Yang — another navy frigate — remained to stand guard while the Hsin Bei and the Ho-shin continued north on a patrol mission to protect Taiwanese fishing boats operating nearby.
At 6am the next day, the two coast guard vessels were passing near the Chunxiao gas fields and approaching the 270 nautical mile boundary when they encountered a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat, the 1,000 tonne PL-120 Kurisaki.
There was a tense moment when the crew aboard the Japanese ship tried to observe the Ho-shin at a short distance, and the crew on the Ho-shin did the same to the Kurisaki, bringing the two vessels within 0.5 nautical miles of each other at 6:12am.
However, the Japan Coast Guard patrol boat then sailed off.
At 6:20am, the coast guard ships conducted a series of checks and patrols around wellheads in the Chunxiao gas field, drawing the attention of China’s Hai Yang Shi You 603 tug and supply ship.
The Chinese ship made radio contact with the Hsin Bei, which responded by explaining that the coast guard was carrying out its mission to protect its fishermen.
The Chinese tug did not try to gather information on the Hsin Bei, instead anchoring quite a distance away.
As the Taiwanese vessels began their voyage back to Taiwan on Tuesday last week, Japan sent several SH-60K choppers and P-3C surveillance aircraft to monitor the Hsin Bei and the Ho-shin at low altitude before flying away.
The two coast guard vessels were then escorted home by navy ships that had been on standby, returning to Keelung at 6am on Wednesday last week.