Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen and others pose for photos in front of the newly launched coast guard flagship Chiayi in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Thursday, April 29, 2021.
CNN  — 

Taiwan commissioned into service a new coast guard flagship Thursday to help counter China’s “gray zone” war tactics against the island.

The civilian-run coast guard, which would operate as a branch of Taiwan’s navy during wartime, is often involved in confrontations with Chinese fishing and sand-dredging ships which Taiwan says operate illegally in its waters.

Chinese-claimed Taiwan has termed these as “gray zone” tactics designed to subdue the island, seeking to wear Taiwan down with repeated drills and activities in or near its airspace and waters.

Taiwan has been the chief source of tension between Washington and Beijing for decades and is widely seen as the most likely trigger for a potentially catastrophic US-China war. The worry about Taiwan comes as China wields new strength from years of military buildup. CNN's David Culver reports.
Dramatic videos show Chinese naval exercises amid rising tensions over Taiwan (April 2021)
04:04 - Source: CNN

Attending the commissioning of the domestically-made $100.52 million (T$2.8 billion) Chiayi in the southern city of Kaohsiung, President Tsai Ing-wen said the word “Taiwan” in English will be gradually printed on all coast guard vessels.

This “demonstrates our determination to defend the blue territory of the Republic of China”, Tsai said, using Taiwan’s formal name.

Coast guard fleet branch director Hsieh Ching-chin told Reuters the Chiayi will be dispatched to Taiwan’s western coast which faces China as well as Taiwan-controlled islands in the disputed South China Sea.

“We will defend our sovereignty and fishing rights,” he said.

The 4,000-ton Chiayi is the coast guard’s largest ship.

The vessel has three high-pressure water cannons, which the coast guard uses in encounters with Chinese fishing boats and sand dredgers that illegally operate in Taiwanese waters, as well as a multiple rocket launcher system and machine guns.

In a report to Parliament this week, Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, which oversees the coast guard, said China is aggressively expanding its maritime militia, seeking to create “gray-zone conflicts” in the region.

“As long as they dare to cross the border, we will arrest them,” Hsieh said, referring to Chinese militias disguised as fishing boats.

The Chiayi is part of government plans to counter the growing Chinese threat, which also includes a target of building 141 new coast guard ships by the end of 2027, it said.