Taipei Pushes Back (Dec 2002)

(c) K.B. Sherman

Taipei has revealed that, within the past few months, warships from China's northern fleet have sailed past Taiwan’s east coast while another ship from the eastern fleet also sailed close to the Taiwan Strait's dividing line around the same time. In November, a Chinese Ocean Survey ship, the Xiang yang hong No. 14, trespassed into Taiwan's territorial waters for the third time, coming within 5 miles of Orchid Island.

The Peoples Republic of China “State Oceanic Administration Survey Ship” Hsiang Yang Hung No. 14 was recently busted only five miles from Taiwan’s Orchid Island. According to The Taipei Times and The Straits Times, in a case of apparent continuing navigational problems, this is the third time this year that this ship has stumbled into Taiwan’s waters, only to be chased away by Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration the last two times.

The Hsiang Yang Hung No. 14 is variously described as weighing between 2,900 and 4,000 tons, approximately the size of a US Coast Guard high endurance cutter (WHEC). When spotted, the ship had anchored during rough seas. Taiwan was to ask the ship to depart as soon as seas calmed.

The recent trespassing into Taiwan's waters by the Chinese military appears to be one of an endless series of warnings Beijing regularly delivers to Taipei. The PRC is still smarting over the thwarting by the US of missile tests in the area.

According to the Taipei Times, Beijing has been pushing a two-pronged strategy toward Taiwan, trumpeting direct links and launching a peace offensive while adopting a hard-line "if you don't want commercial shipping links then be prepared to see the arrival of warships" approach. It is uncertain whether the appearance of Chinese warships frightens Taiwan or simply stirs up anger.

Taipei responds to such incidents by speeding-up purchases of such weapons systems as Kidd-class destroyers, new diesel-electric submarines, and AEGIS-equipped warships.

Because of rough seas, in the most recent incident, the CGA did not have any ships capable of monitoring the Chinese spy ship for a long period, and so the Taiwan Navy had dispatched a Kang Ding-class [French La Fayette-class] frigate to keep an eye on the Hsiang Yang Hung No. 14. Taiwan has purchased six Kang Ting-class frigates at a cost of $ 2.8 billion. The stealth-configured Lafayette-class frigates are approximately the size of the older USS Perry-class guided missile frigates and are armed with Hsiung Feng II and Sea Chaparral surface-to-air missiles. The Kang Ding-class is used primarily for sea control beyond the range of Taiwan’s P-3C and other patrol aircraft. The semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) made a strong protest to its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) over the spy ship's entering Taiwan waters. The SEF reportedly asked ARATS to send a message to the Chinese government that it should exercise self-control since such incidents have happened repeatedly.

The Hsiang Yang Hung No. 14 has been discovered off Taiwan on two previous occasions this year, on April 14 and Oct. 10, near Orchid Island. On the first occasion, the ship did not enter Taiwan's territorial waters. But on Oct. 10, Double Tenth National Day, the ship was already within 7 miles of Orchid Island when it was spotted.

Taiwan's armed forces have been conducting the "Hankuang 18" (Han Glory) exercise, the year's biggest military exercise to test reforms of the military command structure.

Local military analysts regarded the rare sailing as a flexing of marine muscle by the Chinese navy, which has been fast-modernizing its fleets by obtaining advanced Kilo-class submarines and Sovremmeny-class guided missile destroyers from Russia. Coming upon these acquisitions may be ex-Soviet Slava-class nuclear guided missile cruisers, plus Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, according to the Times.