Taiwan and Japan Track China Warship Together in Apparent Team-up at Sea

Senior defense officials in Taiwan were coy about the country's military collaboration with Japan when quizzed on Monday about satellite imagery showing an apparent joint surveillance operation of a Chinese warship in the East China Sea.

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters that Taiwan was cooperating with a number of friendly parties but said he could not disclose information about specific departments.

On Saturday, Japan's Defense Ministry said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) frigate Binzhou had passed through the Miyako Strait into the Western Pacific the day before. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force later deployed an Abukuma-class destroyer escort and two maritime patrol aircraft as the single Chinese warship traveled north via the narrow waters between Taiwan and Yonaguni, Japan's westernmost inhabited island, which lies less than 70 miles from Taiwan's east coast.

#海上自衛隊 は、中国海軍の艦艇1隻が沖縄本島と宮古島の間の海域を南下し、一時的に太平洋に進出、その後、台湾と与那国島の間の海域を北上し、東シナ海へ向けて航行したことを確認しました。 #自衛隊 は、引き続き我が国周辺海空域における #警戒監視活動 等に万全を期してい参ります。 pic.twitter.com/mC0dnAeCL7

— 防衛省統合幕僚監部 (@jointstaffpa) May 1, 2021

Satellite images dated May 1, however, revealed an additional detail not present in the announcement by the Japanese Defense Ministry—a Taiwanese warship also appeared to be in the vicinity, seemingly monitoring Binzhou as it returned to the East China Sea.

In the same frame, a Taiwanese navy Kee Lung-class destroyer can be seen sailing about 6 miles west of the Chinese and Japanese warships. Taipei's Apple Daily described it as the first joint surveillance operation between Taiwan and Japan.

One #PLAN #Type054A Frigate(濱州艦 515), one #ABUKUMA Class Destroyer Escort (護衛艦あぶくま型)and probably one Taiwan Kee Lung-Class Destroyers(基隆級驅逐艦) were spotted in the #EastChinaSea about 132km north-northwest of Yonaguni(与那国島) on May 1.
Image:© PlanetLabs https://t.co/ChvUw4ZkCe pic.twitter.com/iOFLoJ9pGy

— August (@August20190831) May 1, 2021

Taiwan's defense officials, however, did not corroborate the newspaper's view that Taipei and Tokyo had collaborated over the weekend.

Defense Minister Chiu said Taiwan dispatches ships and aircraft to monitor any People's Liberation Army assets operating within designated areas.

"It's not about specific cooperation with any country. That's inappropriate [to disclose]," Chiu told reporters. "With regard to national defense, we will monitor whenever required."

In a recent report sent to Taiwan's lawmakers, the Defense Ministry said it was sharing intelligence with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)—the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei—regarding Chinese navy movements in the Western Pacific and in the South China Sea.

Asked whether the ministry had shared Saturday's operations report with the AIT, Chiu said he was "not at liberty" to name specific departments.

His deputy, Chang Che-ping, offered a similar response when quizzed by lawmakers at a defense committee hearing, also on Monday. He offered no comment on reports supposing cooperation between Taiwanese and Japanese forces.

Chang confirmed that Taiwan had tasked a Kee Lung-class destroyer to shadow Binzhou, whose crew was likely on a training and intelligence-gathering mission. Chang said the vessel "did not pose a serious threat" to Taiwan's security.

The PLA warship's appearance in the Western Pacific on Friday coincided with the Chinese military flying five planes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ). According to Taipei's Defense Ministry, a Chinese Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft crossed the Bashi Channel, south of the island, before turning back.

5 PLA aircraft (Y-8 ASW, Y-8 EW, KJ-500 AEW&C and J-16*2 ) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on Apr. 30, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/Vs2NKwmsJq pic.twitter.com/2TuogpOGRu

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) April 30, 2021

Lu Li-shih, an instructor with Taiwan's naval academy in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, said the warplane likely linked up with Binzhou for anti-submarine exercises.

Like the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel serves as one of the few international waterways the Chinese navy can use to exit the first island chain. Its additional strategic significance at the mouth of the South China Sea is often cited as the reason behind the PLA's increased warplane activity in the southwest corner of Taiwan's air defense zone.

Taiwan Navy Warship Conducts Missile Test
Republic of China (Taiwan) Navy Kee Lung-class guided-missile destroyer ROCS Ma Kong launches a surface-to-air missile during drills at sea near the east coast of Taiwan on September 26, 2013. Defense officials in Taiwan did not confirm a military collaboration with Japan when quizzed about satellite imagery showing an apparent joint surveillance operation. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images