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May 29, 2017

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Ma christens two ships to patrol Diaoyutai Islands

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday christened two Coast Guard cutters that will patrol the waters over the disputed Diaoyutai Islands.Hsin Bei (新北艦) and Hsun Hu No. 8 (巡護8號) will be based in Keelung Harbor (基隆港) and deployed to waters peripheral to the Diaoyutais, an island chain at the center of a regional territorial dispute.

The Coast Guard Administration (海岸巡防署) chose Cijin District (旗津) of Southern Taiwan for the ship's christening ceremony, in the interest of minimizing friction with Japan, Taiwan's neighbor to the northeast, according to military authorities.

Onboard the Hsin Bei, Ma reiterated the government's determination to enforce Taiwan's claim over the Diaoyutai Islands.

"We will not concede one step," said Ma during opening remarks at the launch ceremony.

But Ma renewed his call for the Coast Guard to refrain from aggression in accordance with his East China Sea Peace Initiative.

Taiwan "won't evade, provoke or concede" to other claimants in the defense of Diaoyutais sovereignty and protection of fishing rights, Ma told the crew.

The ship launch comes at a time of continued maritime conflict over the Diaoyutais, an island chain controlled by Japan but claimed also by Taiwan and mainland China.

Ma has adopted a relatively low-key approach to defense, but has also stepped up the visibility of Coast Guard patrols in the surrounding waters. Last September, Taiwan and Japanese clippers exchanged water cannon fire near the disputed waters.

The new patrol ships, Hsin Bei and Hsun Hu No. 8, are part of a NT$24 billion project to add 37 vessels to the Coast Guard by 2018.

The 2,000-ton Hsin Bei is the Coast Guard Administration's first clipper fitted with 40-mm cannons and machine guns. It will join a fleet of smaller ships to patrol Taiwan's side of the temporary law enforcement line and defend the operations of Taiwanese fishermen.

After the commissioning ceremony, Ma inspected a Coast Guard fleet drill that featured the ships on their maiden run.

Earlier this month local media reported that the Coast Guard also invited Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), but Ma presided at the ceremony without either.

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