To curb China’s expansionism in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Australia should bolster cooperation with Taiwan in maritime affairs management.
During a videoconference between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Friday, DPP Legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) suggested that Taiwan and Japan boost coast guard cooperation, referring to a newly signed Taiwan-US memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a joint coast guard working group.
Tsai later told reporters that LDP foreign affairs division director Masahisa Sato backed the proposal, and that bilateral coast guard cooperation could begin with joint drills and rescue missions.
Taiwan and Japan have signed MOUs on maritime search-and-rescue missions, on preventing smuggling and illegal immigration, and on promoting ocean research.
However, a territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, remains a sticking point. While Taiwan and Japan in 2013 signed a landmark fisheries agreement, reaching a consensus on fishery operations in the two countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones and easing the sovereignty dispute, clashes between Taiwanese fishers and Japanese coast guard ships still occur.
If Taiwan and Japan cannot solve the sovereignty dispute and improve cooperation in the west Pacific, there will always be security loopholes that allow Chinese coast guard ships to trespass. Once Chinese forces can sail through the Miyako Strait at will, breaking the first island chain, it would not be long before Beijing extends its dominance over the entire Pacific.
Last month, Japan said in its annual defense white paper that “China has continued its unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China seas. China Coast Guard vessels are sighted almost daily in the contiguous zone surrounding the Senkaku Islands, an inherent part of the territory of Japan, and repeatedly intrude into Japan’s territorial waters.”
“Stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan’s security and the stability of the international community. Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” it said.
Likewise, there is ample room for Taiwan and Australia to boost cooperation, considering that Australia is the main power in the South Pacific — where China is eager to expand its influence by controlling the area’s island nations.
In a report released on Aug. 9, Australian think tank the Lowy Institute envisioned a series of events that might happen in eight to 20 years, constituting the “worst-case scenario” for Australia’s national security. In the scenario, China gains control over Taiwan by force, or after Taipei is given an ultimatum by Beijing amid wavering US commitment to the nation; Japan undergoes at least partial “Finlandization,” requesting the departure of US forces from its territory; and China eventually addresses security challenges further afield.
Keeping Taiwan out of Beijing’s reach serves the national interests of the US, Japan and Australia, the report said.
While Taiwan and Australia cooperate on energy, education, tourism and food trade, there seems to be little collaboration on security or maritime affairs.
Taiwanese officials have expressed the hope that Taiwan could join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the US, Japan, Australia and India.
Although that goal might not be reached overnight, boosting coast guard cooperation, or less sensitive research cooperation, might be a good start. The security dialogue between Taiwan’s and Japan’s ruling parties provides a good model for deepening ties.
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