The Ministry of National Defense and the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) will hold a joint military exercise in the overlapping waters of Taiwan and the Philippines this week, Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said yesterday.
Taiwan’s naval forces are more than a match for the Philippine Navy, Yang said, amid a dispute over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by personnel aboard a Philippine Coast Guard vessel on Thursday last week.
“We without a doubt have adequate forces [against the Philippines],” he said.
Yang told lawmakers at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee that the ministry may hold a large-scale military exercise with the CGA this month. He did not elaborate.
Lawmakers threw their support behind the planned exercise as they adopted a resolution demanding that the drill utilize the coast guard’s 2,000-tonne Hsinbei vessel, the first CGA patrol boat equipped with a 40mm anti-aircraft cannon, as well as navy destroyers and frigates.
The combined exercise would be held in waters about 164 nautical miles (304km) southeast of the southernmost tip of Taiwan, where the 15-tonne Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was attacked by a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, leading to the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成).
If the Philippines fails to respond to the ultimatum by Taiwan regarding the incident, the ministry and the CGA should disperse fishing boats from the Philippines in waters within the 200-nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone claimed by Taiwan, carry out onboard checks or detain the boats, the resolution said.
Following the incident, the navy on Sunday dispatched a LaFayette-class frigate to join three coast guard ships to patrol the waters.
On Thursday, a Kidd-class destroyer and a Cheng Kung class frigate are to be dispatched to join two coast guard ships already patrolling the Bashi Channel for training operations, Yang said.
While the CGA will continue to serve as the frontline force to protect fishing boats, the military will offer full backup and support, Yang said.
Activities involving the use of firearms by national defense forces require authorization by the minister of defense.
“Yes, we are ready. The ministry will authorize the use of force” if coast guard ships are attacked by the Philippine Navy, Yang said, in response to a question by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方).
CGA Deputy Minister Cheng Chang-hsiung (鄭樟雄) said coast guard personnel have been authorized to use machine guns or rifles, but not 20mm cannons or other heavier weapons, which would require further authorization from the Coast Guard Administration minister.
Cheng said the CGA is also considering installing more 40mm cannons on coast guard vessels.
According to the CGA, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was operating 1.8 nautical miles (3.3km) beyond the temporary law enforcement line when it was confronted by the Philippine Coast Guard and left disabled within the enforcement line.
At a meeting of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee, CGA Minister Wang Jinn-wang (王進旺) and Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Hu Sing-hwa (胡興華) both agreed to consider expanding the line further southward.
Navy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Hsu Pei-shan (許培山) said the navy’s first attack should be authorized by the minister of defense.
Lin asked the defense ministry to authorize naval ships to use certain weapons without giving the ministry prior notice.
According to CGA statistics, Philippine vessels intruded around Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea 154 times between 2000 and last year, and 34 times around the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), but Taiwan’s coast guard did not expel, intercept or detain any of the vessels, Lin added.
Cheng said that according to coast guard regulations, its ships should expel intruding vessels.
Additional reporting by Rich Chang