Taiwan drives away Chinese coast guard boat as front-line tensions rise

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TAIPEI – Taiwan on Feb 20 drove away a Chinese coast guard boat that entered waters near its sensitive front-line islands, raising tensions a day after China’s coast guard boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat in a move that a Taiwan minister said triggered “panic”.

A Chinese coast guard boat, numbered 8029, entered Taiwan’s waters near Kinmen on the morning of Feb 20, Taiwan’s coast guard said in a statement. It said it dispatched a boat and used radio and broadcast to drive away its Chinese counterpart, which left the area an hour later.

The Taiwanese coast guard said it would continue to use radar, surveillance and patrols to ensure “harmony and safety” near the waters of the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, which are close to China’s shores.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory to be reunified despite the island’s rejection, has been wary of efforts by Beijing to ramp up pressure on Taipei following the election in January of Mr Lai Ching-te as president, a man Beijing views as a dangerous separatist.

China announced on Feb 18 that its coast guard would begin regular patrols and conduct law enforcement activity around the islands of Kinmen, following the death of two Chinese nationals fleeing Taiwan’s coast guard after entering waters too close to Kinmen.

Six Chinese coast guard officers on Feb 19 boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat carrying 11 crew members and 23 passengers to check its route plan, certificate and crew licences, leaving around half an hour later, Taiwan’s coast guard said.

“We think it has harmed our people’s feelings and triggered people’s panic. That was also not in line with the interest of the people across the strait,” Ms Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, told reporters outside Parliament in Taipei on Feb 20.

Ms Kuan said it was common for Chinese and Taiwanese tourist boats to accidentally enter the other side’s waters.

“Boats like these are not illegal at all,” she said.

Kinmen is a short boat ride from the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou and has been controlled by Taipei since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists, who set up the People’s Republic of China.

Kinmen is home to a large Taiwanese military garrison, but it is Taiwan’s coast guard that patrols its waters.

Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters that to avoid a further rise in tensions, the military would not “actively intervene” in the incident.

“Let’s handle the matter peacefully,” he said. “Not escalating tensions is our response.”

Kinmen was the site of frequent fighting during the height of the Cold War, but is now a popular tourist destination, although many of its islets are heavily fortified by Taiwanese forces and remain off limits to civilians.

China says it does not recognise any restricted or banned zones for its fishermen around Kinmen.

China has in recent years regularly carried out military drills around the island as it seeks to assert its sovereignty claims and pressure Taipei.

Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.



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