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Responding to provocations

Publication Date : 24-04-2012


Taiwan claims sovereignty over two archipelagoes in the South China Sea. They are the Spratlys and Pratas, with troops being stationed on an island of each archipelago. The Spratly Island where some 100 Coast Guardsmen are deployed is known as Taiping Island, or “Peace Island,” though it isn't quite peaceful any more.

The vernacular China Time Magazine reported in a scoop last Friday that two Vietnamese armed patrol vessels came so close to Taiping on March 22 as to compel the Coast Guard Administration to dispatch two M8 speedboats which, when fired upon, returned fire for the first ever aggressive naval encounter between Taiwan and Vietnam. A similar attempt was made by Vietnam on March 26, while the Coast Guardsmen on Taiping were put on war alert each time. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was told to file protests with Hanoi, according to the report.

On learning that the incident had come to light, the Coast Guard Administration confirmed the encounter but emphasised that there wasn't any exchange of fire and the Vietnamese patrol vessels left Taiwan's territorial waters peacefully. James Tien, Waichiaopu director general of the Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific, told The China Post over the phone that Taiwan's representative office in Hanoi lodged a protest with the Vietnamese authorities following the incident to reaffirm Taiwan's sovereignty over the island groups in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

There's no need for suppressing the news. Why the authorities didn't tell the people what's going on in the South China Sea is beyond our comprehension. It's true that Vietnam is trying to manufacture a war scare over the Spratly Islands that ride atop very rich oil reserves. The Vietnamese navy has conducted a live-fire sea maneuver to flex its military muscle in a show of force against the People's Republic of China. The People's Liberation Army retaliated in kind by sending its naval flotilla to the Spratlys. But until last month, Hanoi had not sent any patrol boats near Taiping and Taipei wasn't overly concerned, though tensions were mounting. The Ministry of National Defense didn't want to provide Hai-ou (Sea Gull) missile boats and M41A3 tanks for the Coast Guardsmen on Taiping Island. Neither did the Navy patrol the waters of Taiping. As a matter of fact, Coast Guardsmen replaced Marines in 1999.

Such an escalation is probably not necessary, because it's just a Hanoi-fomented war scare. Despite the hollow saber rattling, Vietnam has no stomach for a war against Taiwan and China. The Vietnamese were defeated by China in 1974 and ousted from the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. A few years ago, a brief sea encounter took place between the two countries over the Spratlys and the Vietnamese were trounced.

Though we are positive that no armed conflict would occur between Taiwan and Vietnam over the Spratlys any time soon, we have to show our determination to protect our interests in the South China Sea. If the brass hats don't want to send the Marines back to Taiping again, they have to give the Coast Guardsmen better weapons and let the Navy make regular patrols in force across the area, including the waters of the Pratas, where tensions are mounting as China and the Philippines had two military standoffs near Scarborough Shoal within less than a month. The shoal belongs to the Pratas over which Taiwan, China and the Philippines claim sovereignty, and where Taiwan created its first and only ocean national park on atolls.

Neither of the proposed actions are any flexing of military muscle, of course. Taiwan is merely trying to protect its interests. The actions aren't provocative. Rather, they are in response to the provocation issued by Vietnam and the Philippines. Taipei has made it perfectly clear it wants is to shelve the sovereignty issue to tap the fishing and oil resources of the Spratlys and the Paratas.


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