The U.S. and Taiwan have signed an agreement intended to boost cooperation between their coast guards, in a move to push back at China’s increasingly assertive maritime activities.
The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes a working group to “improve communications, build cooperation, and share information” on coast guard-related efforts, according to a statement dated Friday from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei.
Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang pointed to a law that China passed in January giving its coast guard greater freedom to fire on foreign vessels, when asked about the new agreement signed.
“China’s coast guard law is shocking to its neighboring countries,” Su told reporters at the legislature. “So countries are working together based on shared values in an effort to maintain regional peace and stability.”
The move marks the latest effort by the U.S. to counter China’s use of its coast guard and civilian fishing militias to assert its territorial claims. The U.S. has been deploying its Coast Guard to the Western Pacific to help allies enforce their claims in disputed waters. The crew of a U.S. cutter boarded a Chinese fishing boat illegally operating in the waters of the Pacific nation of Palau in December.
The statement from the AIT did not say whether closer cooperation meant that U.S. vessels would be used in Taiwanese waters — a move that would elicit an angry response from China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi used an annual news briefing earlier this month to warn the Biden administration there is “no room for compromise or concessions” in Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan.
China has been employing a range of methods to pressure Taiwan, from sending aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Strait and jets into its air defense identification zone, to using large numbers of fishing vessels as a maritime militia.
Earlier this week the U.S. expressed concern over the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
It has also sent hundreds of sand dredgers to islands that Taiwan controls near the closest mainland province of Fujian. Taiwan’s coast guard vessels have seized multiple dredgers off Matsu, but their sheer numbers are overwhelming.
Illegal fishing is also a concern, with Taiwan’s coast guard seizing a Chinese boat Tuesday and detaining its 13 crew members near the northern city of Keelung, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
China’s ruling Communist Party claims democratic Taiwan as its territory, though it has never controlled it. Beijing also uses economic means to put pressure on Taiwan, and cut ties with the island when Tsai Ing-wen became president in 2016.
China also works to entice companies and individuals to work on the mainland, offering them incentives such as preferential insurance and credit policies, in a bid to increase its influence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said this week during a trip to Fujian — which is just 130 kilometers (80 miles) away — that provincial officials should offer more of these policies.
Beijing has threatened military action to force unification.
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