On March 25, Taiwan and the US signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a coast guard working group. In the past few years, the Coast Guard Administration has increasingly taken on the role of an auxiliary navy, while the US Coast Guard operates as one of the six branches of the US armed forces.
The MOU is not only the first joint agreement between Taiwan and the US under the administration of US President Joe Biden, it also represents a significant first step toward the formation of a quasi-military alliance between the two nations.
Just over two years ago, on March 25, 2019, US Coast Guard cutter the USCGC Bertholf and US Navy guided-missile destroyer the USS Curtis Wilbur transited through the Taiwan Strait on a freedom of navigation operation. It was the first such voyage involving a US Coast Guard vessel and the operation demonstrated that the coastal protection force was capable of operating alongside the US Navy, forward-deployed in the western Pacific for politically charged frontline duties such as traversing the Strait.
Moreover, on Dec. 17 last year, the US Navy, US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard published a joint report, titled “Advantage at Sea: Prevailing With Integrated All-Domain Naval Power.” The report was a follow-up to an earlier strategic guidance paper, titled “Forward, Engaged and Ready: A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” published in March, 2015.
Right from the outset, last year’s report directly identifies China and Russia as “determined rivals” to the US, although China is referenced 33 times in the main body of the report, compared with only 16 mentions of Russia — twice as often. This demonstrates that the US military views China as by far the more serious threat.
The report also emphasizes that by working closely together and pooling their resources, these three branches of the US military can achieve synergies and a force multiplier effect so that US maritime power and the interests of US allies are not threatened.
In Taiwan, on Dec. 12 last year the first of 12 Anping-class patrol vessels — a modified and improved version of the Tuo Chiang-class missile corvette — entered service with the Coast Guard Administration. In addition to carrying the Chen Hai high-explosive missile system, the vessels are also capable of being retrofitted with the Hsiung Feng “Brave Wind” II and III anti-ship missile systems.
In other words, if required, the Anping-class patrol vessels can be upgraded to have the same capability as the navy’s planned 12 Tuo Chiang-class missile corvettes, providing the navy with an additional 12 fast-attack boats for deployment into a theater of war.
Additionally, before taking up the post at the beginning of the year, Coast Guard Administration Director-General Chou Mei-wu (周美伍) was a National Security Bureau special adviser based in Washington for a little more than two years. Chou’s time in Washington would have allowed him to establish communication channels and gain experience that would stand him in good stead for his current role. The government might have planned it this way to enable cooperation with the US on a broad range of maritime matters.
Defending against Chinese “gray zone” conflict in the Strait is to be the common security issue facing Taiwan and the US in the years ahead.
The signing of the MOU is a response to China’s Coast Guard Law, which came into effect on Feb. 1. The MOU is a potent signal of the shared stance and aspirations of both nations and a sign of deepening cooperation between Taipei and Washington that has sown the seed for a US-Taiwan quasi-military alliance.
Huang Wei-ping is a former think tank researcher.
Translated by Edward Jones
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