With overlapping sovereignty claims throughout Southeast Asia, the rule of law is paramount to regional safety and security. By working with other organizations in the region to combat transnational challenges, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has opportunities to cultivate soft power and engage diplomatically in ways not afforded to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND). As a civilian law enforcement agency, the CGA can enhance Taiwan’s regional integration through cooperative action that sidesteps questions pertaining to its sovereignty.
The Coast Guard Administration
The CGA’s history under the Ministries of National Defense and of the Interior has shaped it into an experienced civilian law enforcement agency with a veteran officer corps. Originally created by the Lee Teng-hui Administration in 2000, the CGA was organized within National Police Agency (Ministry of the Interior) by combining the Marine Policy Bureau (National Police Agency; Ministry of the Interior), the Garrison Command (Military Policy Command; MND), and Maritime Law Enforcement and Intelligence (MND). During the reshuffling, vessels from Taiwan’s Customs Administration (within the Ministry of Finance) were moved to the newly created coast guard. The CGA was then re-organized by each subsequent administration, in 2015 and 2018 respectively.
In April 2018, Taiwan inaugurated the Ocean Affairs Council, which was created to consolidate the work of 22 existing agencies into three: the CGA, the National Ocean Research Institute, and the Ocean Conservation Administration. The Ocean Affairs Council is tasked with planning and implementing marine-related policy, developing the marine industry, and “conduct[ing] affairs related to waters and coast guarding, marine conservation and marine research.”
Fleet size is an important indicator of successful and effective maritime law enforcement, and the CGA boasts one of the largest fleets in the region. With 161 surface vessels in its fleet, the CGA is larger than the counterpart agencies of any individual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member state. Nonetheless, the CGA is dwarfed by the 422 patrol and coastal combatant vessels of the People’s Republic of China Coast Guard (PRCCG) and by the 367-strong fleet of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG).
A Tool of International Engagement
The UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) established expanded maritime boundaries with additional provisions increasing maritime law enforcement authority. As a result, many maritime countries established their own coast guard fleet to assert sovereignty within their domain. Of the nearly 50 coast guard fleets in the world, approximately 20 were created or re-organized after UNCLOS came into force in 1994; ten of these are in Southeast Asia. 
These fleets were created to address many of the maritime security issues in the region.  One of the primary concerns to Southeast Asian countries at the time (and still today) was illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). The region has more than a million fishing vessels and is plagued by overfishing and habitat damage. These types of illegal and illicit activities typically rely on small, agile boats and light arms, highlighting the need for coast guards to cover a significant amount of open water.
As demonstrated by issues pertaining to combatting IUU fishing, coast guards are traditionally charged with law enforcement missions that often benefit from multilateral cooperation. This provides a ready opportunity for coast guards from various countries to collaborate in upholding the rule of law. This potential is already evidenced through Taiwan’s existing participation with international government organizations (IGOs). As a result of the island’s ambiguous sovereignty, Taiwan only participates in 58 IGOs and is a full member of 38 IGOs, but around 15 percent of the IGOs Taiwan participates in are related to maritime law enforcement. Taipei should explore opportunities to further expand the diplomatic role of the CGA. By leveraging the CGA to support transnational security issues and strengthen the rule of law, Taiwan may be able to develop additional cooperative agreements with regional partners.
The first step toward strengthening international engagement is establishing non-binding Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with partner countries to outline accepted forms of engagement. Once established, the CGA should expand these MOUs and formalize efforts with a series of Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs). With these formal agreements, the CGA would be able to establish four main types of relationships with its international partners:
- CGA as a Recipient: Accept capacity building support from countries like the United States and Japan. These exchanges could take the form of specialized trainings, subject matter expert (SME) exchanges, and arms sales.
- CGA as a Donor: Provide capacity building support to partners like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Fiji. Already-established MOAs with the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Tuvalu provide a foundation to expand CGA’s support to other countries.
- Exchanges: Engage in information-sharing and other collaborative efforts with countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
- Coordination: Deepen coordination between regional maritime law enforcement agencies, including those from ASEAN member countries and Japan, as well as Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China.
The CGA should clearly define the level to which it is able to collaborate with international partners. Doing so will improve partner nations’ confidence in Taiwan, thereby improving opportunities to successfully develop MOAs. To this end, the CGA should conduct an internal needs assessment to determine its capabilities and gaps. Next, the CGA should evaluate potential partners to determine optimal engagement. This analysis would provide a framework through which Taipei could strategically craft an engagement plan.
Engagement Recommendations for the CGA
Although the CGA has ready potential to engage with regional partners, it nonetheless remains difficult for Taiwan to engage with the international community or to lead cooperative efforts. Focusing on its efforts to establish cooperative engagements on areas of common interest and shared goals (such as IUU fishing and piracy) improves the likelihood of such agreements coming to fruition. To provide regional leadership, the CGA should consider the following four recommendations:
- Conduct needs assessments to improve regional capacity;
- Boost regional Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA);
- Provide training and educational Services; and
- Coordinate regional responses for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR).
Capacity building support from multiple countries may place additional strain on the recipient country by creating inefficiencies and redundancies. Additionally, due to national security concerns, countries typically only share their capacity gaps with donor countries. To address redundancy and information asymmetry, the CGA can assist countries by providing assessments of their capability needs. This can include conducting the needs assessment or providing planning support via checklists and guides to boost their partner countries’ access to resources.
Helping countries conduct a needs assessment can alleviate the demands on resource- constrained coast guards while providing a critical support function to donor countries. Once a needs assessment is completed, the CGA can work with other donor countries to provide the requisite assistance to address needs and capacity gaps with SME exchanges, joint patrols, ship-rider agreements, or arms sales. Once the CGA has supported multiple partners in conducting their needs assessments, it will be able to aggregate the various countries’ needs to identify regional trends or overlaps. This data will allow for a more thorough assessment of capabilities throughout the region.
Maritime Domain Awareness
To improve regional maritime domain awareness (MDA), the CGA should develop a coordination center to provide interagency and international collaboration. This center should establish a point of contact for regular communication with the Philippines National Watch Center and with the Thailand Maritime Enforcement Coordinating Center (THAI-MECC).
The CGA can direct regional response coordination to provide needed support for those countries lacking adequate law enforcement forces. Should the CGA develop a regional incident command, it could then coordinate emergency and incident response by notifying or activating the requisite response agencies and requesting additional support from neighboring or potentially impacted countries.
Training and Educational Services
Many regional coast guard fleets face skills gaps. The CGA could develop a mobile training unit similar to JCG’s recently established Mobile Cooperation Team (MCT), which is modeled after USCG’s Mobile Training Teams.  Such a team could provide training that addresses the issues facing the region, such as evidence collection, boarding, and fisheries crime. Additionally, a main direction in which the CGA should expand its training is in search-and-rescue optimal planning system (SAROPS). USCG’s incident command system is widely known and used by other coast guards around the world; however, USCG’s bandwidth to provide training on this topic is limited. With consistent regional training, the CGA can meet this need by providing regional coordination using USCG SAROPS, especially for emergency response.
Since the training concepts of the USCG, JCG, and CGA are similar, the CGA should pursue opportunities to conduct joint trainings with these other coast guards. The CGA training team can integrate into USCG’s or JCG’s training teams, lend team members, or provide materials for trainings. Additionally, in order to improve training, the CGA should establish a dedicated academy to train recruits and cadets. Unlike the coast guards of other countries, Taiwan’s CGA lacks a partner university for training its recruits; however, the CGA does have a training center with a vocational training program. The CGA should consolidate the National Academy of Maritime Research with these various training units, centers, and programs, in order to create its own academy.
Furthermore, they should consider building an international coast guard academy instead of a siloed domestic academy, since many regional coast guards have educational needs not met at current institutions. While the USCG Academy (USCGA) and JCG Academy (JCGA) both allow foreign students, these academies are meant mainly for their own cadets; the proposed CGA Academy could help to remedy this global skills gap by providing the needed educational services to all regional coast guards.  Creating an international academy would also generate long-term relationships and develop interoperability between fleets.
Coordinating the Regional Coast Guard Response
The CGA can serve to strengthen coordination between third-party actors. One way is by coordinating regional coast guard responses to incidents at sea, such as search-and-rescue or oil spill recovery. While regional coordination does occur, these are often impromptu efforts done on an ad hoc basis, since the overlap in maritime boundaries means that a maritime incident is likely to impact multiple countries. Many of these incidents also require the use of equipment from multiple countries. For example, in January 2018, the Iranian tanker Sanchi collided with another vessel within China’s undisputed exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Sanchi burned and drifted for over a week; it ultimately sank within Japan’s claimed EEZ. Over a dozen vessels from four countries—China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States—were mobilized in the emergency response and clean-up efforts.
This example shows that coordination can and does occur; however, the timeline of response and recovery highlights the need for a coordinated effort. For several countries, response time is confounded by a lack of equipment, vessels, air support, salvage units, and maritime domain awareness. Further compounding the issue is the lack of trained personnel in the region and the absence of a standard incident response structure.
Each of these four recommendations provides a functional component for coordinating a regional framework for incident response. The CGA can identify capabilities along an incident path, provide coordination via MDA centers, and respond using the USCG’s Incident Command System. The CGA can further provide regional coordination by determining potential and impacted geographies, notify the relevant stakeholders, and request resources. The CGA coordinating a regional coast guard response can reduce response time, reduce the impact to the environment, and improve maritime safety, all while increasing Taiwan’s integration and centrality in the region.
The main point: While the waters to the south of Taiwan are defined by competing claims and overlapping boundaries, they could potentially provide Taiwan with opportunities to strengthen its international engagement and enhance its soft power. By working closely with other regional organizations to combat transnational threats, Taiwan can bolster the regional rule of law and better secure its interests in Southeast Asia.
 The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2019: The Annual Assessment of Global Military Capabilities and Defence Economics (London: Routledge, 2019).
 Countries that created a coast guard agency since UNCLOS include: Bangladesh, Malaysia, the People’s Re- public of China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Countries that re-organized their coast guard agency include: Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Of these, the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan have re-organized their coast guards within the past five years.
 Many of these maritime security issues in the region include: piracy/armed robbery; terrorist activities; illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing); fisheries degradation; habitat destruction; and drug or human trafficking.
 Ryoki Toku and Brandon Lee, Report on Japan Cooperation for Maritime Safety Capacity Building Support: Recommendations (Hiroshima: Japan International Transport Institute, 2019).