Tag Archives: East China Sea

An Embarrassing Fact: The Legal Basis of the PRC East China Sea ADIZ

By Chang Ching

Two years ago on this day, the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China issued a statement on establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. According to “the Statement by the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” three PRC domestic laws and administrative rules were addressed as the basis of the East China Sea ADIZ within the following text:

The government of the People’s Republic of China announces the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone in accordance with the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense (March 14, 1997), the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation (October 30, 1995) and the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China (July 27, 2001). The zone includes the airspace within the area enclosed by China’s outer limit of the territorial sea and the following six points: 33º11’N (North Latitude) and 121º47’E (East Longitude), 33º11’N and 125º00’E, 31º00’N and 128º20’E, 25º38’N and 125º00’E, 24º45’N and 123º00’E, 26º44’N and 120º58’E.

IMG_5846
It is highly unlikely that the East China Sea ADIZ may effectively terminate all the foreign air reconnaissance maneuvers.

Further, based on this government statement, China’s Ministry of National Defense issued an announcement of the aircraft identification rules for the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone of the People’s Republic of China as the following text:

The Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, in accordance with the Statement by the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, now announces the Aircraft Identification Rules for the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone as follows:

First, aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must abide by these rules.

Second, aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must provide the following means of identification:

  1. Flight plan identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone should report the flight plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China or the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
  2. Radio identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must maintain the two-way radio communications, and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries from the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ.
  3. Transponder identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, if equipped with the secondary radar transponder, should keep the transponder working throughout the entire course.
  4. Logo identification. Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone must clearly mark their nationalities and the logo of their registration identification in accordance with related international treaties.

Third, aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone should follow the instructions of the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ. China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.

Fourth, the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China is the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.

Fifth, the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China is responsible for the explanation of these rules.

Sixth, these rules will come into force at 10 a.m. November 23, 2013.

For the most part, military observers and political commentators have analyzed the matter from the political dimension. What is lacking is an examination of the validity of these three PRC domestic laws and rules as well as their association with the PRC government statement and the subsequent aircraft identification rules. 

After reviewing the three laws and rules, i.e. the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation and the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China, noted by the PRC East China Sea ADIZ statement (hereafter, the statement) and the associated aircraft identification rules, we may conclude the following flaws:

First, the effective dates of these three laws and rules noted by the statement are indeed questionable.

For the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, it was initially put into force on March 14, 1997, as noted by the statement. Likewise, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation was originally put into effect on October 30, 1995, also noted by the statement. Nevertheless, according to the “Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Amending Some Laws” issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on August 27, 2009 and subsequently put into effect by the “Order No.18 of the President of the People’s Republic of China”, the Article 48 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense was revised. Similarly, contents or wordings of the Article 191, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199 and 200 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation were also revised by the same amending process and government document. Hence, the effective dates of these two laws noted by the statement were definitely incorrect after the law amendment process.

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The original map attached to the PRC East China Sea ADIZ government statement.

Moreover, the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China was not initially put into force as noted by the statement. It was first jointly issued by the PRC State Council and the PRC Central Military Commission on July 24, 2000, by the “Decree No. 288 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China” after a large scale revision from its progenitor with the identical title established by the same two institutions on April 21, 1977.

Based on two separate documents but with the same titles known as the “Decision of the State Council and the Central Military Commission on Amending the General Flight Rules of the People’s Republic of China”, it was subsequently twice amended on July 27, 2001 and October 18, 2007. Also, the revised rules were put into force by the “Decree No. 312 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China” and “Decree No. 509 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China” on August 1, 2001 and November 22, 2007, accordingly. We therefore may notice that the effective date of the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China noted by the statement was neither the initial effective date of the rule nor the latest effective date of the rule.

Based on the survey results already mentioned , we may conclude that the validity and legality of the judiciary documents cited by the statement is undeniably questionable. The quality of this government statement is poor.

Second, the jurisdiction associated with the contents noted by these three laws and rules as compared with the airspace defined by the PRC East China Sea ADIZ can also be problematic. The jurisdiction defined by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense is basically illusive. It does note with the territorial airspace in its text. Yet, the substantial content of this law has never specifically mentioned its jurisdiction may extend to any air defense identification zone. Likewise, the Article 2 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation does declare the PRC’s exclusive sovereign rights over its territorial airspace. Many other articles of this law also repeatedly address its jurisdiction over the PRC territorial airspace. By the principle of ratione loci, we may clearly identify the jurisdiction defined by this law never was intended to extend to the airspace over the East China Sea.

A screenshot from a video posted on the website of China's Ministry of National Defense shows a Japanese fighter jet following Chinese fighter jet. (Handout)
The PRC East China Sea ADIZ is not a hollow statement. The Substantial interception maneuvers toward the JMSDF MPA by the PLAAF fighters.

On the other hand, according to the Chapter 13 and the Article 173 of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation, its jurisdiction does cover those foreign aircrafts or other flying objects within its territorial airspace. Also, by the terms noted in its Article 182, its jurisdiction may extend to certain search and rescue areas out of its territory. Nonetheless, such search and rescue areas are governed by the international treaties and totally irrelevant with any air defense identification zone.

Basically, the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China is the administrative rule originated from the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation. This is exactly the reason why the Article 1 of this rule specifically noted its jurisdiction only covering those aviation activities within the PRC’s territory. However, the Article 2 of the same rule also extends its jurisdiction over those units and persons with the ownership of the aircrafts as well as the personnel relevant to the aviation activities and the activities themselves. There are numerous articles of this rule repeatedly addressing its jurisdiction and objectives involved in the activities within this airspace as well as the aviation activities themselves.

The only exception regarding the jurisdiction out of its territorial airspace ever appeared in this rule is the Article 121 of Chapter XII titled with Supplementary Provisions: “In regard to the aircraft of the People’s Republic of China operating over the contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones or high seas beyond the territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China, where the provisions of an international treaty concluded or acceded to by the People’s Republic of China are different from the provisions of these Rules, the provisions of that international treaty shall apply, except the provisions for which reservation has been declared by the People’s Republic of China.” According to the content noted above, its jurisdiction may only cover the aircraft with the PRC nationality registration. It does not authorize any jurisdiction over foreign aircraft out of its territorial airspace.

After reviewing the content of these three laws and rules, we may very confidently believe that there is no basis of jurisdiction over the East China Sea ADIZ ever granted by them. This is another solid evidence of staff work negligence.

Third, terms or any substantial contents noted by these three laws and rules are never associated with the airspace defined by the statement or the aircraft identification rules requested by the PRC Defense Ministry announcement. The term of the ADIZ itself was never specifically defined by these three legal documents since it never ever appeared in any text of them. Further, for those means of identification demanded by the PRC Defense Ministry announcement, no corresponding regulation has ever been noted in these three laws and rules. Of course, Article 167 and 168 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation as well as Article 39 and 90 of the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China are noted with the term of flight plan, yet, the substantial content is totally irrelevant with the flight plan identification within the PRC East China Sea ADIZ.

As for the radio identification, the term does appear in the text of the Article 10, 88 and 90 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation for eight times and in the Article 48, 57, 60, 87, 95, 101 and 105 of the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China for a total of thirteen times. Again, the context of these applications is not relevant to the East China Sea ADIZ identification procedures. The term of secondary radar transponder noted by the transponder identification section of the PRC Defense Ministry announcement of identification rules is never noted in these three legal documents. Last but not least, for the logo identification, the term “logo” itself is mentioned by the Article 8, 58, 61 and 85 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation five times but the contexts are not substantially associated with the East China Sea ADIZ identification procedures.

Likewise, it was also noted by Article 24, 41 and 47 of the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China for six times. The content of the Article 24 and 47 is totally unrelated to the logo of any aircraft. Only the Article 41, “Aircraft operating within the territory of the People’s Republic of China shall bear distinct identification marks. Aircraft without identification marks are forbidden such flight. Aircraft without identification marks shall, when in need of such flight due to special circumstances, be subject to approval by the Air Force of the People’s Liberation Army. The identification marks of aircraft shall be subject to approval in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State,” the content is seemingly in accordance with the East China Sea ADIZ identification rule. Nonetheless, the jurisdiction of the Article 41 is only within the PRC territory, which is not the airspace defined by the East China Sea ADIZ.

It is noteworthy that there are various airspaces defined by these three laws and rules. Apart from the search and rescue areas mentioned above, the only other airspace that has the coverage out of the PRC territorial airspace is the “Flight Information Region” noted in the Article 30 and the Article 85 to Article 88 of the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China. The significance of the Flight Information Region is clearly defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization. It is totally different from ADIZ declared by any nation in the world. No confusion can happen between these two terms.

The PRC government statements on establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone and the Defense Ministry announcement of the aircraft identification rules within this ADIZ are fundamentally reckless. The PRC East China Sea ADIZ has already existed for almost two years. Can we ask the following questions?

Does the PRC adopt this ADIZ to expand its sovereign claim as many political accusations ever predicted? Does this ADIZ successfully expand the PRC sphere of influence as many commentators ever actively speculated? Does this ADIZ pave the solid foundation for the PLA to exercise its airpower above the East China Sea as many military experts assessed? Do expanding PRC military air activities associate with the mechanism of this ADIZ? How much national pride is substantially acquired after establishing this ADIZ? Whether this ADIZ actually serves the functions as the PRC government originally claimed? And finally, do we fairly and comprehensively judge this issue by excluding our prejudice first?

All readers may have their own answer to these questions. We should never forget that the biased vision may only cause distortion of the fact and creating confusions that hindering us to see the reality. Whether we may fairly observe and assess the regime in Beijing does matter to our future strategic options and welfare.

Chang Ching is a Research Fellow with the Society for Strategic Studies, Republic of China. The views expressed in this article are his own.

A Pacific Rebalance with Chinese Characteristics

 Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Justin Chock

China’s newest national military strategy provides further insight on the framework that Chinese leaders use for their routinely enigmatic decision-making processes. The current paper builds on previous military white papers, which necessitates a look to previous editions in understanding the most recent one. Comparing the 2013 Defense White Paper with the 2015 strategy shows a great deal of overlap, but more interesting than the party lines consistent over many years are the differences, including the absence of key issues, from the most recent document. A reading of China’s Military Strategy alongside an analysis of contemporary events in the Sino-Japanese relationship illuminates a subtle shift in Chinese strategy since late 2013 from the East China Sea toward the South China Sea in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance centered on the Maritime Silk Road.

Controversial island building by the Chinese and surveillance flights by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander have highlighted the significance of South China Sea relations within the past few months, but the 2015 Chinese Military Strategy further reflects this importance. In the paper, China highlights their “South China Sea Affairs” that encounter the “meddling of other powers,” a point notably lacking from the 2013 White Paper given the long history of the dispute and the degree of scrutiny that decision makers put into these documents.

SouthChinaSeaReclamation-Economist
South China Sea Land Reclamation Efforts by Country, Economist

But observers may question why Chinese planners decided to undertake the hugely provocative project of island building and why the 2015 paper would touch upon it. Part of the reason may deal with the timing of the building with respect to other claimants. Vietnam began its land reclamation around 2010, and the Philippines followed suit with runway construction in 2011.

So China was not the first to engage in island-building activity (although the speed and scale of the projects vastly outweighs the Vietnamese and Philippine efforts); instead China, under the comparatively bolder Xi administration after 2012, decided to run full speed in the race to grow its claims starting in October 2013 when the projects were first spotted. This start date coincided closely with the One Belt One Road announcement in September 2013 and Maritime Silk Road announcement in October 2013, with the latter running directly through the South China Sea and near the disputed areas. Additionally, the October 2013 efforts post date the 2013 White Paper, published on April 16, 2013, allowing time for a strategic shift that was not solidified until after the document’s publication (or was perhaps deliberately omitted).

Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.
Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.

So, for China it appears the importance of island building in the South China Sea lies in ensuring secure maritime lanes for both its current trade and for the heightened flow that will come from the Maritime Silk Road. As a comparison of China’s land and sea economic trading shows, the nation is effectively an economic island, and the vulnerable flow through the South China Sea is the lifeblood of China’s economy. Should the nation lose control of that flow, its economy would be crippled, the consequences of which the Chinese people (and the Chinese Communist Party, which owes a great deal of political legitimacy to its economic growth) do not want to risk. The result: islands to enable enhanced oversight of the sea lanes.

As important as the addition to the 2015 paper, however, are its omissions. The 2013 paper depicts a “Japan (that) is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu islands,” but nowhere in the 2015 version is there an explicit mention of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. The only mention of Japan in the new strategy addresses the “overhauling [of] its military and security policies” (an understandable mention given the recent Japanese Diet bill increasing the scope of Self Defense Force operations) and its potential inclusion with the above South China Sea “meddling powers,” though the latter is not explicitly stated. The decision to remove an explicit mention of the Diaoyu islands dispute mention from the 2015 document is significant. This significant shift is reflected in recent reports of oil rigs in the East China Sea showing that China is choosing to literally not cross the line with Japan in this contentious geography. Statistical anomalies and shifting tactics aside, this is consistent with its deeds and not just its actions. If one is to make comparisons—albeit difficult given the different situations between East and Southeast Asia—a provocative statement toward Japan equivalent to South China Sea island building would be to cross the median line and assert China’s original stance regarding the continental shelf on the Japanese side of the line.

china-japan-us

Instead, China sees the larger picture: the East China Sea is at a stalemate while the South China Sea remains comparatively free to shifts in the status quo. This couples with the decrease in Chinese patrols within Senkaku/Diaoyu waters beginning in October 2013 and coinciding with the beginning of Chinese island-building efforts in the South China Sea. If one were to draw an albeit difficult analogy, a provocation equivalent to island building in the South China Sea would be for China to literally cross the line and assert its original stance on Japanese and Chinese claims to the continental shelf. Yet, it appears that China is taking a holistic strategic view of regional issues and refraining from simultaneous confrontation.

There are a number of reasons why China might decrease its focus on Japan. Whether China feels secure enough in the region with the November 2013 establishment of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or whether Chinese leadership have taken into account the increasingly interdependent economic relationship, the potential to warm the Sino-Japanese relationship, or too much perceived risk in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, their words and deeds suggest Japan is no longer China’s primary security focus. Instead, China’s military (or at least, its maritime forces, which the National Military Strategy states will be increasingly emphasized) is drawing resources away from the East and toward the Southeast to support the Maritime Silk Road in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance.

For the U.S., this Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance warrants careful consideration of any substantial increase in support of Japan or major shift in Japanese posture (e.g., expanded operational scope for the Japanese Self-Defense Force [JSDF]). Since a shift in the current balance may force China to once again focus on the East China Sea, for both the U.S. and Japan this suggests the wisdom of measures to reassure China. For example, emphasizing that the JSDF’s increased scope does not imply a corresponding increase in hostile intent or the targeting of that scope against China.

With respect to the South China Sea, and extending the analogy between the East and South China Seas, awareness of this rebalance places more decision-making leverage in American hands. Should the U.S. want to deter China in these waters as in the waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, stationing troops in the region, partnering with Southeast Asian allies, or reconciling with states in Southeast Asia and along the Maritime Silk Road are all potentially viable approaches. These approaches will become increasingly important as the Road is further established in the coming years and as China correspondingly shifts its focus to these waters; as China shifts focus to Southeast Asia, the U.S. must shift focus as well.

The new U.S. National Military Strategy falls in line with this thinking, describing how China’s “claims to nearly the entire South China Sea are inconsistent with international law,” and thus are a strategic focus of the U.S. However, conscious efforts must be made to maintain this momentum as China’s Rebalance appears to be a long-term project. This includes, as the Chinese Strategy states, further partnerships with states along the Maritime Silk Road as it expands, the groundwork of which will require diplomatic and political work today in preparation for the Road’s expansion. While other pressing issues (e.g., Russia, ISIL, etc.) top the list in describing the strategic environment in the U.S. Strategy, the American Asia-Pacific Rebalance must endure as the long-term strategy.

China's Martime Silk Road
China’s Maritime Silk Road

This interest in increased U.S. presence along the Maritime Silk Road is reciprocal. For Southeast Asian leaders, China’s rebalance marks the beginning of more vigorous Chinese engagement in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia as a whole. These nations must be prepared for increased Chinese presence and attention, and plan for higher levels of more geopolitical friction. Each nation’s approach will depend on their unique circumstances, but allowing U.S. counterbalancing forces into the region is one of a handful of options for adapting to the changing circumstances.

For all parties, tensions in the South China Sea present a serious challenge to both joint economic growth and regional security. While the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute will remain on China’s agenda, the evolving Chinese military strategy and Chinese actions suggest that South China Sea is the next area of focus for the rising nation. This gives the region and the states within it an increasing strategic priority that cannot be ignored.

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Japan’s Izumo Helicopter Carrier Commissioned

Post by Chris Biggers

This past week, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) commissioned the lead vessel of its new class of helicopter carrier at a ceremony at the Yokusuka naval base less than 10 miles south of Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city.

The Izumo (DDH-183) is the island nation’s largest vessel superseding the Hyūga class, Japan’s first helicopter carrier post World War II. To get a clear sense of size, satellite imagery from March 2014 shows both vessels at the IHI Marine United shipyard. At the time, the 248 meter-long Izumo was still in the fitting out process while the 197 meter-long Hyūga (DDH-181) was located in a nearby dry-dock undergoing routine maintenance.

At 24,000 tons, the fully loaded Izumo is noticeably larger than its 19,000 ton predecessor and more capable.[1] Manned by approximately 470 sailors, the vessel can support up to 14 helicopters — broken up into seven Mitsubishi-built SH-60k ASW helicopters and seven Agusta Westland MCM-101 mine countermeasure helicopters.

According to Jane’s, the carrier is equipped with an OQQ-22 bow-mounted sonar for submarine detection, two Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile SeaRAM launchers and two Phalanx close-in weapon systems for air defense.

“This [vessel] heightens our ability to deal with Chinese submarines that have become more difficult to detect,” an JMSDF officer told the Asahi Shimbum in late March.[2] Downplaying grander ambitions, JMSDF officials have often focused media attention on the ship’s role in undertaking border surveillance and humanitarian assistance missions.

Izumo

Beyond the ship’s standard load, the vessel can also support the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and some have even suggested the vertical landing Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. Although the latter has caused much controversy, putting F-35s on the Izumo seems unlikely given that the advanced fighter was acquired by Japan’s Air Force and not its sea services (to say nothing of the additional retrofit costs that would require of the vessel).

But that hasn’t stopped Chinese assertions and general concerns throughout East Asia of Japanese intent. “The Izumo proves that Japan has the technical capabilities and demand to develop aircraft carriers. It’s also possible that Japan may explore the possibility during the Izumo’s service,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based military commentator, told the Chinese Global Times newspaper. Beyond China, South Korea has also voiced concern.

While no one’s exactly sure how Japan will use the new carrier, its potential for power projection is undeniable. As geopolitical tensions increase, especially with disputed island territories and areas like the South China Sea, it’s not surprising to see Japan push to bolster her navy. With the election of officials like Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, defense spending has gone up and bans on arms exports have been lifted—suggesting Japan is preparing to reinterpret her role on the world stage. What this will ultimately mean for the service is still too early to say.[3]

In the meantime, the USD 1.2 billion Izumo will join JMSDF’s Escort Flotilla 1, based at the Yokosuka naval base, also home of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet.[4] The vessel was initially laid down on 27 January 2012 and launched on 06 August 2013. It will later be joined in 2017 by the second vessel in the series, the DDH-184, currently under construction at IHI Marine United Shipyard.

This post can be found in its original form at offiziere.ch 

Notes
[1] Both measurements refer to the vessels at full load.
[2] In 2013, Japan said it detected Chinese submarines navigating near territorial waters of Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures.
[3] Japan has in recent years participated in amphibious warfare training utilizing the Hyuga class helicopter carrier in concert the US. For Example Dawn Blitz 2013.
[4] Japan has 4 Escort Flotillas with a mix of 7-8 warships each. Bases are located at Yokosuka, Kure,Sasebo, Maizuru, and Moinato. SSKs are organized into 2 Flotillas with bases at Kure and Yokosuka. Remaining Units assigned to 5 regional districts.

The Potential for Panshih: Taiwan’s Expanding Maritime Role

Taiwan has long enjoyed a robust maritime force, intended to defend the island nation from threats both real and perceived across the Taiwan Strait. An arrangement under which the United States will deliver four Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates for use by the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) will only serve to further enhance the country’s maritime power. But perhaps the most interesting development for maritime affairs in the Asia-Pacific region so far in 2015 is the delivery of the ROCS Panshih.

With a total displacement of 20,000 tons and a range of almost 15,000 kilometers, the supply ship Panshih will greatly contribute to the ROCN’s expeditionary capabilities, allowing Taiwan to contribute meaningfully to disaster relief or humanitarian operations anywhere in the region. Historically, Taiwan has lacked this capability, fielding only the ROCS Yuen Feng, a troop transport. Although the ROCN has operated another supply ship for some years, ROCS Wu Yi, the Panshih is significantly larger and possesses much more advanced medical facilities. Reportedly, the Panshih is also only the first of its class – a second ship of an identical design is expected for the ROCN in the next few years.

These ships may soon cruise the seas in a Taiwanese effort to replicate the successes of China’s maritime diplomacy. The Peace Ark, a hospital ship in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has toured extensively since its commissioning in 2008. For example, the Peace Ark was deployed to assist the Philippines in recovering from Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, and later was an important component of the Chinese participation in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) 2014. Port visits and participation in such multilateral operations enhance China’s “soft power”, whereas observers note that Taiwan has been sidelined for the most part in regional diplomatic affairs. Pursuing a similar theme to China’s charm offensive could be just the remedy to Taiwan’s isolation.

A port of the flight deck on the Panshih.

Yet there is one catch to the Panshih’s particular design. The vessel boasts some offensive capabilities, including a Phalanx close-in weapons system, a 20mm Gatling gun, short-range Sea Chaparral surface-to-air missiles, several .50 calibre machine guns, and 30mm turrets. In contrast, the Berlin-class auxiliary ships employed by the Germany Navy, and which the Royal Canadian Navy will also soon employ as the Queenston-class, have only four MLG 27mm autocannons for defence. China’s Peace Ark is entirely unarmed. While the Panshih’s armaments grant it operational flexibility, they also undermine the vessel’s capacity to act as a soft power tool.

Perhaps the most ideal role for this vessel in the future will be to join relief operations in unstable environments. Taiwan has not contributed much in this area in previous years, with the ROCN focusing almost entirely on defending the Taiwanese coastline from threats across the strait. But there is one success story: in 2011, Taiwan initiated some participation in the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. This constituted an important contribution to international efforts against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. But this is the lone case of active engagement by the ROCN in any initiative beyond the Taiwan Strait. The Panshih could grant Taiwan more options in this regard, since the deployment of fully fledged combat vessels to an area like the Gulf of Aden could be viewed by domestic audiences as weakening Taiwan’s coastal defenses or otherwise as a misuse of Taiwanese defense resources. A supply ship could be more readily spared so far as the public is concerned.

Lending credence to the idea that the Panshih will be used to support humanitarian operations in failed or failing states, the vessel also has impressive hangar space, capable of storing up to three helicopters. The Taiwanese media has focused on the capacity for the ship to serve as a takeoff and landing platform for anti-submarine helicopters, but it is also certainly possible for the ship to serve as a base for transport helicopters ferrying supplies and specialized personnel to inland locations, while also bringing back patients requiring intensive care at the Panshih’s onboard medical facilities. The ROCN’s 19 Sikorsky S-70C(M) Thunderhawk helicopters offer some possibilities in this regard.

In any case, the ROCN now has in its possession a versatile ship. What remains to be seen are how the ROCN will put it to use in the coming years and to what extent this will reflect Taiwanese foreign policy priorities. With such a sophisticated vessel, it would be a shame for Taiwan to keep it docked as backup for a regional conflict that might never, and hopefully will never, come.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

This article can be found in its original form at offiziere.ch and was republished by permission.