At the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) expressed her willingness to push for “meaningful dialogue” with China on an equal footing. Her remarks were praised by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who said such goodwill might help break the deadlock between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
However, a week later, the Coast Guard Administration irritated Beijing by announcing that it would, on Tsai’s instructions, add the word “Taiwan” above the words “ROC Coast Guard” on the hulls of Taiwanese coast guard vessels to distinguish them from Chinese vessels.
Some experts speculated that this was related to China’s launch early this month of the Haixun 06 (海巡06) vessel, Fujian Province’s first 5,000-tonne maritime patrol rescue ship.
However, what is more interesting is the Chinese vessel’s capabilities. In addition to its ability to supply electrical power to other ships, the Haixun 06 can perform a variety of life-saving tasks on a ship in distress, such as stopping leaks and draining water. The vessel is also equipped with various emergency systems, such as fire suppression.
Take its monitoring system for oil spills for example: Based on calculations and environmental data, such as wave height and sea conditions, the system can monitor the distribution and drift of oil spills on the sea surface.
When dealing with threats on the waters in the Strait and to the marine life there, perhaps the solution lies in cross-strait cooperation on certain issues such as prevention of water pollution, sustainable development of the fishery industry and the conservation of precious marine life.
It would be much more effective and efficient if the two sides worked together. When dealing with accidents, such as ships in distress or oil spills, they could cooperate to save lives and reduce damage.
In the case of massive oil spills, for example, good results could be obtained if the two sides could work together to build a maritime emergency response mechanism.
There are many successful examples of such cross-border cooperation. For example, France, Italy and Monaco have built a cooperation mechanism for whale protection in the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Also, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have teamed up in the Wadden Sea through the 1997 Trilateral Wadden Sea Plan.
Cooperation across borders on ocean conservation can also help improve relationships, as can be seen in the example of Jordan and Israel, which have worked together to protect the coral reefs and tourism resources in the Red Sea Marine Peace Park.
As political leaders on both sides of the Strait expressed goodwill during the Lunar New Year holiday, perhaps they could start by discussing how to build a cooperation mechanism to protect the marine environment, making the ocean — which belongs to all — the biggest winner.
Hua Jian is an associate professor in National Taiwan Ocean University’s Department of Marine Engineering.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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