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Taiwan Jumps Into the Game of Thrones

Taiwanese Coast Guard Hold Military Exercises

At a ceremony last weekend, President Ma of Taiwan unveiled two gleaming new patrol ships that will increase Taiwan’s presence around disputed waters in the East China Sea. “We will not concede one step” in defending Taiwan’s claim on the islands there, said Ma at the ceremony. The announcement builds on the “water war” incident back in September, when 70 Taiwanese fishing boats entered Japanese waters near the islands, “shocking” Tokyo and provoking a water cannon battle between Japanese and Taiwanese coast guard ships.

Awkwardly, the new ships launched amid warming ties between Taiwan and China, which along with Japan also fiercely claims the islands. President Ma is known as a China dove, and his administration has presided over the friendliest relationship between the two nations in years. On Monday Taiwan eased financial restrictions to allow Chinese banks to invest on the island, “a major advance in cross-strait ties,” as the FT reports. But by launching the new ships and reinforcing Taiwan’s claim on the islands, President Ma might just sour this new goodwill.

Taiwan’s annual war games exercise later this month also threatens to darken what seems to be a relatively good mood in the East China Sea. For the first time since 2008, live fire will be used in the exercise, which is designed to train Taiwanese soldiers to defend the island against a major Chinese invasion.

This kind of muscle-flexing might be intended to boost President Ma’s popularity: his administration hit a record low approval rating of 13 percent back in November. It will also complicate an already tense territorial tussle in the East China Sea.

[Image: Taiwanese coast guards in front of new patrol vessel on March 30, courtesy Getty]

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