To counter China’s increasing aggression at sea, Taiwan should improve cooperation with neighboring countries in maritime affairs management and research.
China’s new coast guard law, enacted on Feb. 1, empowers vessels to fire at foreign ships in waters claimed by Beijing, increasing its options for naval warfare. The Philippines last month said that the law would pose a “threat of war,” while Taiwan, the US and Japan have also voiced concerns, saying that China aims to increase gray-zone conflicts in the South and East China seas, especially in the waters around the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼), known as the Senkakus in Japan.
As the leading power in the Asia-Pacific region, China is a source of provocation and a hostile neighbor rather than a respectable big brother who promotes regional stability and cooperation.
At the front line of China’s aggression, Taiwan should find new ways to cooperate with its neighbors, apart from bolstering self-defense capabilities and increasing its coast guard fleet.
Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康), who earlier this month rejoined the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and wants to run in the 2024 presidential election, is foolish when he says that Taiwan’s coast guard should patrol the Diaoyutais to assert the nation’s sovereignty against Japan’s claim. Taiwan would appear as a rash and self-ignorant challenger. The pan-blue camp’s hostility against Japan might be understandable, considering that Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) led the KMT forces in the fight against Japanese troops in China in the 1930s and 1940s — and that compared with the former Japanese colonial government of Taiwan, he was considered an inferior ruler by many Taiwanese.
Nonetheless, as Taiwan and Japan have become partners in a wider democratic alliance — including the US — there is potential for further cooperation.
Promoting Taiwan-Japan bilateral cooperation in maritime affairs is a formidable task, as the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutais and the countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) remain the sticking points of their relationship. Taiwan’s dispute with the Philippines over overlapping EEZs has resulted in nasty diplomatic tensions, not to mention other disputed claims in the South China Sea.
While those territorial disputes might not be solved any time soon, the government can promote collaborations in subtler ways, by supporting maritime research and talent cultivation in pertinent areas.
Taiwan signed fisheries agreements with Tokyo in 2013 and Manila in 2015, which are good starting points for jointly combating maritime crime and illegal fishing, as well as for promoting the sustainable management of natural resources.
As Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines are susceptible to typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis, the government should also lend more support to natural science research, especially as Taiwan has launched four new research vessels since 2017.
While some forms of collaboration between Taiwan and the US Navy exist, most are maintained by individuals or institutions, and the government should explore ways to turn them into official partnerships and long-term programs.
Oceanographic findings, including hydrographical and acoustics data, are crucial for navigation safety, and the development of submarines and underwater technology. The government should find ways to integrate and employ such data, which are valuable to the nation’s maritime power.
The Ocean Affairs Council, which appears to place more emphasis on its affiliated Coast Guard Administration, should make more of an effort to cultivate professionals in research and development related to maritime law and technology.
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