Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Taiwan adds patrol ships amid tensions

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has commissioned new patrol vessels to beef up surveillance around the Senkaku Islands, a buildup apparently aimed at standing firm against Japan and China. The Ma administration has reinforced Taiwan's fleet of patrol ships to secure interests in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea, where the Senkaku Islands are located in Okinawa Prefecture. China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Taiwan's new patrol vessels commissioned Saturday are the 2,000-ton-class Hsin Bei and the 1,000-ton-class Hsun Hu No. 8. The Hsin Bei is Taiwan's first patrol vessel equipped with 40mm autocannons. In a speech at a commissioning ceremony in the city of Kaohsiung, Ma said, "With escalating tensions in the surrounding waters, [maritime] missions have grown in frequency." Ma boarded the Hsin Bei for a drill in which the vessel discharged a stream of water while the electric signboard on its bridge displayed a warning for foreign vessels to leave. The warning was written in Japanese and Chinese. Deployed in the northern Taiwan city of Keelung, the Hsin Bei patrols the northern region of Taiwan's waters around the Senkaku Islands. Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration (CGA), which is the island's equivalent of the Japan Coast Guard, has patrol vessels equipped with up to 20mm autocannons, but the aging of its boats and their equipment has become evident. "We can't win even over pirates," said Lan Ning-li, a retired Taiwan Navy vice admiral. Criticism grew over Taiwan's maritime capabilities after a Taiwan fishing boat sank in a collision with a JCG vessel off the Senkaku Islands in 2008. Taipei then began bolstering its fleet of patrol ships; under a plan to expand its fleet to 173 vessels by 2016, Taiwan plans to commission 37 new ships, including the two unveiled Saturday. In September, a Taiwan fishing boat that entered waters near the Senkaku Islands was escorted by a CGA patrol ship that fired water cannons
toward a JCG vessel. In January, a Taiwan patrol vessel escorted a leisure fishing boat heading to the waters near the Senkakus. At that time, Taiwan took a firm stance against China, calling on an approaching Chinese government vessel to leave immediately. As of last year, China's State Oceanic Administration alone had about 400 vessels, including 27 vessels that are in the 1,000-ton-class or larger. China has several maritime government bodies. But Lan said the CGA plan would bolster Taiwan's maritime ability, saying, "[Taiwan] can't compete with China in terms of the number [of vessels] but could compete well in terms of quality." However, the United States expressed displeasure to Taiwan about its vessels approaching the Senkaku Islands, according to sources. Currently, Japan and Taiwan are arranging to resume fisheries negotiations. Ma said Saturday he hopes the talks will be concluded soon. "The Ma administration is unlikely to take provocative action for the time being," a source familiar with the matter said. Aboard the Hsin Bei vessel on Saturday, Ma inspected waters northwest of Kaohsiung, far from the Senkaku Islands, in apparent efforts to avoid raising tensions with Japan further.

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