Cross-Strait Security Cooperation Should Begin with DialogueChina Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 31, 2010
Beijing issued another statement yesterday. Its national defense sector explored the possibility of cross-Strait military confidence-building measures. It suggested "proceeding step by step, doing the easy things first," predicated upon the One China Principle. Because the five cities elections are approaching, the Ma administration will probably respond cautiously, hoping to minimize any negative effect on the year-end elections. But in the wake of ECFA and direct links, the two sides will find it difficult to avoid "non-traditional security cooperation." The government may wish to look at the issue of cross-Strait military confidence-building measures from this perspective.
The cross-Strait military confidence-building measures members of the public are most concerned about have to do with "traditional security." They worry about undermined sovereignty, Washington/Taipei arms sales, a reduced ability to defend Taiwan and Penghu, and a lowering of our guard. But merely initiating a dialogue on security cooperation involves none of the above risks. It can be both easy and gradual. Based on three links, it would consist mainly of "non-traditional security measures" such as humanitarian relief, maritime rescue, counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, and environmental protection issues. It is referred to as the SCFA, or Cross-Strait Security Cooperation Framework, and is a matter of considerable urgency, since maritime accidents can occur at any moment.
In October 2008, for the first time since three mini-links between Kinmen and Xiamen were established, the two sides held joint martime rescue exercises. The main impetus was the fire which broke out on the mainland vessel Tongan, while it was docking at Kinmen. At the time there was no cross-Strait cooperation mechanism. Panic ensued. Only after Xiamen deployed emergency firefighters was a tragedy averted. In order to prevent any further such eventualities, the two sides finally decided to hold maritime rescue exercises. Unfortunately they ran out of steam, and cross-Strait cooperation has yet to be normalized.
In January 2001, the two sides implemented "mini three links" between Kinmen and Xiamen. Over the next seven years, 2.55 million passengers crossed over. During all that time, not a single major shipwreck occurred. But with increased exchanges, who can say that nothing will go wrong in the future? In particular, now that ECFA has been signed, the volume of traffic between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Mainland is likely to exceed expectations. The slightest carelessness could lead to an accident at any time. If the two sides fail to establish a cross-Strait mechanism for maritime cooperation, the consequences could be unimaginable.
The worst case scenario would be a maritime or air disaster involving one of our ships or planes. Suppose the other side arrives on scene first. It completes rescue operations, safely returns our disaster victims, then engages in wholesale self-promotion, while our side is seen as having done nothing. What will the public on Taiwan think? They might begin asking why they should pay for such a vast yet useless defense establishment. Such an incident would have a greater impact on public morale than guided missiles.
In addition to maritime security, the two sides must face the challenges posed by pirate attacks and terrorism. On June 16, the International Maritime Bureau issued warnings about piracy in the South China Sea. Pirates frequently hijack vessels in the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. The Strait of Malacca has become a "Second Gulf of Aden." Many waters in the South China Sea are not patrolled. They have become pirate havens. Some coastal countries turn a blind eye to rampant piracy. This encourages even greater lawlessness on the part of the pirates. The situation is now out of control.
To combat piracy, the International Maritime Bureau expects Mainland China to do something similar to what has been done in the Gulf of Aden -- send warships to escort commercial vessels in the South China Sea. There is reason to believe that once Mainland China acts, it will be even more aggressive than in the Gulf of Aden. Such escort operations could encroach on sovereign waters.
Failure to reach a prior understanding and establish a mechanism for maritime humanitarian relief is likely to marginalize us on security issues in the South China Sea. Once a mechanism for cross-Strait cooperation is established, emergency rescue can no longer be one-way. It will require two-way communications, consultation, and decision-making. At most distinctions will be made between first and second responders. But neither side will be completely shut out.
The Ma administration desperately needs to reach an agreement over ECFA. Above all, ECFA will enable us to sign FTAs with other countries. Similarly, the establishment of a cross-Strait maritime security mechanism will enable Taipei to participate in regional security operations. The establishment of cross-Strait "non-traditional security" will help strengthen direct links. It may also reduce concerns in neighboring countries.
How should we proceed? We have three paths before us. First, we have "mini three links" maritime and air traffic safety. The two sides can hold regular cross-Strait search and rescue exercises. Vessels at the local government level can participate in joint operations, transitioning later to paramilitary operations. ROC Coast Guard vessels can participate in joint operations with the other side's public safety vessels and other armed vessels. We can move toward normalization, and promote cross-Strait confidence.
Secondly, we have "three links" maritime and air traffic safety. The two sides can dispatch paramilitary vessels to high seas not in dispute, or the Western Taiwan Strait SAR, to monitor from the sidelines, building cross-strait trust.
Thirdly, we have South China Sea maritime safety. The South China Sea contains economic zones around islands held by the two sides. The two sides can work together to protect marine ecological resources. They can participate in humanitarian relief efforts, anti-piracy efforts, and anti-terrorism efforts. They can maintain the smooth flow of maritime traffic, and reduce the concerns of neighboring countries. The two sides can work together on fisheries policy. Paramilitary vessels can provide backup and escort for fishing vessels. The two sides can set up an information exchange support center. They can resort to a two-pronged approach, moving from cross implementation to parallel implementation.
So-called "non-traditional security" has become an important aspect of international security. It also offers opportunities for cross-Strait security cooperation. Time waits for no man. Cross-Strait maritime rescue exercises can be staged at any time. We urge the government to make advance preparations.