U.S. and Taiwan Coast Guards to Hold First Joint Drills At Sea: Report

Taiwan denied taking part in drills with the United States Coast Guard on Tuesday but said it "does not rule out" possible cooperation, after vessel-tracking data showed a fleet of ships sailing into the Pacific in what reports said were rehearsals for an upcoming joint exercise.

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, confirmed on Wednesday the first meeting had taken place of the U.S.-Taiwan Coast Guard Working Group (CGWG)—a pact agreed back in March as a way to increase maritime cooperation between the two countries.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said the dialogue took place virtually, and that regular meetings would be held in the future.

Neither commented on reports about a first-ever joint exercise at sea, which the Liberty Times of Taipei said had been scheduled for the "near future."

It is unclear whether they would be linked to the ongoing INDOPACOM-led "Large Scale Global Exercise 21," which will last through to August 27.

Taiwan's heavy patrol ship Chiayi, flanked by coast guard vessels Taitung, Anping and a small patrol boat, conducted training drills 28 nautical miles off the eastern port of Hualien, the newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The fleet returned to the same location early on Wednesday, according to vessel-tracker MarineTraffic, which uses ship data transmitted to the automatic identification system (AIS).

Amid speculation that the Taiwanese ships had exercised with their U.S. counterparts on Tuesday, the island's Coast Guard Administration denied any American vessels were involved.

A statement on its website said the U.S.-Taiwan CGWG involves cooperation in areas such as search and rescue, as well as tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The administration said it "also does not rule out any possible form of interaction or cooperation in the future," but noted that the contents of the coast guard pact would not be disclosed without the agreement of both parties.

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Citing a Taiwan Coast Guard source, the Liberty Times said Tuesday's exercises led by the 4,000-ton offshore patrol vessel Chiayi were a rehearsal for the upcoming drills with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The U.S.-Taiwan coast guard agreement will increase mutual cooperation in disaster relief and environmental protection. Observers say the pact will help counter so-called "gray-zone" threats posed by China's coast guard and its maritime militia.

On March 26, when the CGWG was established, the Chinese military flew 20 warplanes—including fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers—into Taiwan's air defense identification zone. It was the largest intrusion of aircraft in a single day, before the record was broken again in June.

Defense analyst Su Tzu-yun said it is only natural for the Taiwanese government to be cautious about what it discloses, given the diplomatically sensitive nature of cooperation with the U.S.

The recent Taiwan Coast Guard drills were a form of "diplomatic art," he told Newsweek. The patrol ships could have turned off their AIS transceivers, but chose not to.

This allowed observers to spot and track the fleet, thereby tacitly confirming U.S.-Taiwan coast guard cooperation, said Su, who is with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei.

U.S.-Taiwan Coast Guards Hold Inaugural Meeting
Taiwan's second Anping-class patrol boat Chengkung, delivered to the country's Coast Guard Administration on June 25, 2021. Taiwan Coast Guard