A recent drill held jointly by Coast Guard Administration personnel and the military in disputed waters in the East China Sea indicates the country has never compromised on its sovereignty claims in the region, academics said.
Two coast guard vessels were joined by navy frigates and air force helicopters and planes on Feb. 17 for a drill codenamed “Tan Yang” to protect fishing boats operating in areas where China’s air defense identification zone overlaps with those of Taiwan and Japan.
The two patrol vessels — the Hsin Bei and the Ho-shin — returned to Keelung two days later, after sailing up to 270 nautical miles (500km) north of the port, reaching China’s Chunxiao gas field at the edge of Taiwan’s “provisional law enforcement boundary.”
Two navy frigates — the Kang Ding and the Feng Yang — escorted the coast guard vessels to the boundary of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone before waiting there on standby.
During the journey, the Ho-shin had a close encounter with a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat, the PL-120 Kurisaki, and it was also in radio contact with the Hai Yang Shi You 603, a Chinese tug and supply ship operating in the Chunxiao gas field.
Both contacts proceeded peacefully, though there was a moment of tension when the Ho-shin and the Kurisaki came within half a nautical mile of each other early on Feb. 18.
Fu Jen Catholic University Center for Japan Studies director Ho Szu-shen (何思慎) said the drills in contentious waters proved that Taiwan has “never discounted” its claim of sovereignty in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Those claims have been particularly staunchly defended through missions to protect Taiwanese fishermen operating within the country’s exclusive economic zone, even after Taiwan signed a fishery agreement with Japan in April last year, Ho said.
The latest patrol by the coast guard to the northernmost reaches of the country’s exclusive economic zone, Ho said, is also proof that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) East China Sea Peace Initiative did not sacrifice the Republic of China’s (ROC) sovereignty.
Ho said Taiwan cannot be bound by its calls to use dialogue to settle territorial disputes in the East China Sea — a key point in Ma’s peace initiative — when it comes to maintaining its sovereignty in the area.
Rather, if the ROC wants the peace initiative to have a chance of being implemented, it must maintain its presence in the region by demonstrating to the world that “we are very active in the East China Sea,” Ho said.
National Taiwan Normal University political science professor Wang Kuan-hsiung (王冠雄) said the Tan Yang drill was a clear indication that Taiwan’s patrol missions have not been affected by China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone in areas that overlap the air defense identification zones of Taiwan and Japan.
The patrol dispelled doubts that China’s announcement, which requires all aircraft and vessels to give prior notice before passing through its zone, might have coerced Taiwan into complying with its demand, Wang said.
The close cooperation between the coast guard and the military during the drill was also proof that the government has done its job of preparing to take action if needed to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty in the East China Sea, both Wang and Ho said.
Wang said that during the joint exercise, which he followed on a navy ship, air force aircraft patrolled the skies within Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, while navy frigates and coast guard patrol boats were doing their job to enforce the law on the sea, and they coordinated their efforts well.