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Taiwan updates regulations to allow counterattack in Bien Dong Sea

December 05, 2020 | 14:52

If Taiwanese ships are attacked near disputed South China Sea islands, the right to order return fire lies with the head of the Cabinet-level Ocean Affairs Council (OAC).

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If Taiwanese ships are attacked near disputed South China Sea islands, the right to order return fire lies with the head of the Cabinet-level Ocean Affairs Council. (Photo: Taiwan News)

In the event that communication is cut off between Taiwan and the Dongsha Islands, the highest-ranking local officer can also make the decision to fire back at assailants, said Taiwan News.

Due to the distance of the islands from Taiwan—about 450 kilometers in the case of the Dongsha Islands—there has to be enough flexibility to allow local officers to respond to aggression in an appropriate manner, especially if channels of communication are destroyed. Dongsha island is located in the southwest of Taiwan and is 444 kilometers from Kaohsiung City. It is between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Luzon, and it is the most north island among the islands in the South China Sea, according to China's Marine National Park.

The changes were made to regulations Wednesday (Dec. 2) during the OAC's review of proposals made in June. The amendments had become necessary because of increased threats at sea, according to defense officials.

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A photo of Dongsha Island. (Photo: Taiwan News)

This amendment came shortly after China released draft legislation to allow its coast guard to use weapons against foreign ships involved in illegal activities in its waters, has raised concerns about the heightened risk of a clash around dispute areas on the East and South China Sea, said Nikkei.

The text, released early November by the National People's Congress, stipulates that handheld weapons may be used against vessels deemed to have violated China's sovereignty, either in emergencies or if warnings are not heeded. The document states that the coast guard's responsibilities include protecting China's marine resources and the fishing industry. The legislation also lists taking necessary steps to protect strategic islands, exclusive economic zones and artificial islands as part of the coast guard's duties. The latter likely refers to Beijing's artificial islands in the Bien Dong Sea.

According to experts, China's move may lead to unfavorable conditions for the authorities and fisherman of countries and territories that currently have maritime disputes with the Asian giant, including Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

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China's move may lead to unfavorable conditions for the authorities and fisherman of countries and territories that currently have maritime disputes with the Asian giant. (Photo: Andalou Agency)

Since May, activity around the three tiny atolls in the north of the Bien Dong Sea has continued to heat up. Both Chinese and U.S. surveillance aircraft have repeatedly flown near the islands throughout the summer and fall. In July, Chinese fishing boats were caught trespassing in the waters off of the Dongsha Islands by Taiwan Coast Guard vessels.

In October 2020, Hong Kong’s air traffic control denied a Taiwanese flight access to Pratas Island, a Taiwan-occupied feature in the South China Sea. It was the first time that had ever occurred. The refusal, likely prompted by Beijing, might seem to be just another way for China to put pressure on Taiwan.

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Valerie Mai