U.S. and Taiwan Team Up Amid Looming China Coast Guard Threat

The U.S. and Taiwan plan to deepen maritime security ties in light of escalating "gray-zone" threats from China, with representatives planning to sign a new cooperation document on Friday.

Brent Christensen, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, will attend the 40-minute event in Taipei, according to a foreign ministry bulletin.

Christensen, who was appointed to lead the de facto U.S. embassy in 2018, will be joined by Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu for the signing of a U.S.-Taiwan coast guard memorandum of understanding.

Lee Chung-wei and Chou Mei-wu, who are the respective heads of Taiwan's Ocean Affairs Council and Coast Guard Administration, will also be present, the notice said.

According to a tweet by the Washington office of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the U.S. Coast Guard and its Taiwanese counterpart intend to "address [China's] gray-zone activities."

The Chinese government has vast maritime claims in the South China Sea and also claims sovereignty over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu. Taiwan also claims the uninhabited islands as Diaoyutai, but tensions between Taipei and Tokyo do not exist on the same scale.

Until Beijing enacted its new coast guard law last month, the country relied on its myriad armed fishing militia to harass the vessels of other regional claimants, which include Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

China's neighbors, however, have raised concerns about the revised maritime police legislation, which allows coast guard ships to fire upon foreign vessels deemed to be intruding in Chinese territorial waters.

According to Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, Friday's agreement will see Washington and Taipei work together to counter increasing maritime gray-zone activities following the introduction of the China Coast Guard law.

Security cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan usually happens in more subtle ways without public acknowledgment. The announcement symbolizes America's gradual shift toward "strategic clarity" when it comes to the question of Taiwan's defense, Su said.

Taiwan should consider increasing its coast guard's deterrence capabilities by using sonic weapons, non-lethal ammunition and water cannons, he told the Central News Agency in Taipei.

The democratic island nation, just 80 miles from China, is not the only country concerned about Beijing's new coast guard law.

Despite the Chinese government's insistence that it has no plans to fire on foreign ships, Manila and Tokyo—both of which are U.S. defense treaty allies—have expressed concern at the potential consequences of the law.

The Japan Coast Guard had several run-ins with Chinese maritime police vessels last month in and around the Senkakus. Among the threatening vessels was one armed with a weapon resembling an autocannon, Japanese authorities announced at the time.

China's coast guard law was also among the subjects discussed at last week's "2+2" meetings in Tokyo, after which the U.S. reaffirmed its commitments to the defense of Japan, including the Senkaku Islands.

U.S. and Taiwan in Coast Guard Cooperation
File photo: A Taiwan coast guard vessel. Taiwan Coast Guard Administration