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China steps up maritime challenges to Taiwan, Japan! This is an original article from VOA News!

The Chinese coast guard has increased its activities in disputed waters near Taiwan and Japan in recent days, forcing Taipei and Tokyo to engage in tense standoffs with Chinese coast guard vessels.

On Monday, the Chinese coast guard claimed it “drove away” four Japanese fishing vessels and other patrol boats that had “illegally entered” the waters near the disputed islands that Tokyo calls Senkaku and Beijing refers to as Diaoyu between June 20 and June 24. China and Japan both view the disputed island chain and the nearby waters as their territories.

“The Chinese coast guard vessels carried out maritime enforcement activities in waters under [China’s] jurisdiction,” the Chinese coast guard said in a statement, urging Japan to “immediately cease all illegal activities in that maritime area and ensure similar incidents won’t occur again.”

In a separate statement, the Japanese coast guard said two of the four Chinese coast guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands were “heading for” Japanese fishing boats operating in the water but were warned off by Japanese vessels.

On Tuesday, Beijing also deployed four coast guard vessels to conduct “routine law enforcement patrols” in waters around Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen Island, which is designated as a restricted area by Taipei and sits just off China’s southeastern coast.

“Since June, the Fujian coast guard has organized fleets to continuously strengthen law enforcement patrols in the waters near Kinmen, further enhancing control over the relevant maritime areas,” the Chinese coast guard said in a statement released on Tuesday.

In response, Taiwan’s coast guard sent three vessels to monitor the Chinese vessels’ activities and gather evidence. Speaking on Wednesday, Defense Minister Wellington Koo said the Chinese moves are part of an effort to change the status quo around Taiwan’s outlying islands. He also said that Taiwan’s coast guard and navy were in constant communication about the intrusions.

The incident occurred just days after China began implementing new regulations that Beijing says allow its coast guard officers to investigate and detain foreigners “who endanger China’s national security and interests” in disputed waters for up to 60 days.

Some analysts say the developments show how Beijing is increasingly relying on its coast guard to “exert” its maritime interests.

“These activities may be a way for China to distract the public from domestic problems, as they put more emphasis on the protection of what they view as China’s core interests, such as their claims over Taiwan,” Collin Koh, a maritime security expert at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told VOA by phone.

Analysts add that since China’s maritime territorial claims are not in line with those recognized internationally, the Chinese coast guard appears to be beefing up its activity across the Indo-Pacific region.

“China has engaged in aggressive shipbuilding and capacity-building programs for its coast guard and it’s also building a lot of infrastructure like artificial islands in the South China Sea to increase its ability to project power into its neighbors’ [domestic waters,]” said Ray Powell, director of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center, which monitors the South China Sea.

As China showcases its growing assertiveness in the maritime domain, Koh in Singapore said the trend has heightened a sense of insecurity across the Indo-Pacific region.

“Even countries that won’t be directly impacted are starting to feel the heat,” he said, adding that the growing interactions between opposing military and coast guard forces will inevitably increase risks of miscalculation or inadvertent military encounters.

To cope with that risk, Koh said some countries are relying more on “mini-lateral” frameworks between like-minded countries such as the trilateral framework among Japan, the Philippines and the United States.

“We have seen greater defense and security engagements with regional parties and some other parties beyond the region,” he told VOA.

But since most countries in the Indo-Pacific region don’t officially recognize Taiwan, some experts say Taipei needs to establish its own protocols to cope with the pressure imposed by the Chinese coast guard.

“Taiwan should deploy more patrol vessels to support the coast guard in the event of a standoff with the Chinese coast guard around the outlying islands,” said Su Tzu-yun, a military expert at the Taipei-based Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

He told VOA that Taipei needs to establish a set of systematic responses to intrusions carried out by the Chinese coast guard in order to press for potential negotiations with Beijing about the status quo around its outlying islands.

Despite growing tensions between China and its neighboring countries, Koh said there are mechanisms to manage standoffs or confrontations between coast guard forces from different countries.

“There are still regional efforts to establish new mechanisms to manage the growing risks of miscalculation or military encounters and while China and the Philippines had probably the worst incident between their coast guard forces in years, I don’t see the two countries necessarily foreclosing dialogues,” he told VOA.

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