Chinese Coast Guard boards Taiwan tourist boat, triggers panic

Incident comes as Beijing announces stepped up patrols near Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands following the death of two Chinese fishermen in the area.

In this handout photograph provided by Taiwan Coast Guard Administration, Taiwanese coast guards inspect a vessel that capsized during a chase off the coast of Kinmen archipelago in Taiwan, Wednesday, February 14, 2024.
Taiwanese coast guards inspect a vessel that capsized during a chase off the coast of the Kinmen archipelago in Taiwan, Wednesday, February 14, 2024 [Taiwan Coast Guard Administration via AP]

Chinese Coast Guard officials briefly boarded a Taiwanese cruise ship on Monday in an incident the government in Taipei said triggered panic among the people of the self-ruled island.

The incident near the Taiwanese Kinmen Islands, off the coast of the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou, came a day after Beijing said it would step up patrols in the area in response to the deaths of two Chinese fishermen who drowned last week while being chased by the Taiwanese Coast Guard.

In a statement on Monday, Taiwan’s Coast Guard said six Chinese officials boarded the Taiwanese tourist boat, which was carrying 11 crew members and 23 passengers.

The Chinese officials checked the boat’s route plan, certificate and crew licenses and left about half an hour later.

Taiwan’s Coast Guard said it dispatched its personnel to the scene. They arrived shortly after their Chinese counterparts left the cruise ship and “accompanied the ship all the way back to Shuitou Port” in Kinmen, it said.

There was no immediate comment from Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its territory.

In Taipei, Kuan Bi-ling, the head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, condemned Beijing’s actions.

“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,” she told reporters, adding that 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 located just 5km (3 miles) from China’s Xiamen and has been controlled by Taipei since Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists.

Fishermen from Taiwan and China regularly sail the stretch of water between Kinmen and the Chinese mainland. And on Wednesday, Taiwan said two of four Chinese fishermen died after their boat capsized while fleeing the Taiwanese Coast Guard.

It said their boat was fishing “within prohibited waters” about one nautical mile (1.8km) away from the Kinmen archipelago.

The other two survivors remain in Taiwan’s custody.

China issued a furious condemnation and its coast guard said it would step up law enforcement patrols in the area.

The patrols are intended to “further maintain the order of operations in relevant waters and protect the safety of fishermen’s lives”, Gan Yu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Coast Guard, said in a statement on Sunday.

Beijing has also called for the immediate release of the detained Chinese nationals.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council – which handles issues regarding Beijing – announced late on Monday that the families of the detained Chinese crew members are expected to arrive in Kinmen on Tuesday.

The Straits Exchange Foundation – a semi-official Taiwanese body that handles technical and business affairs with China – said it “will also send personnel to Kinmen to provide humanitarian care to the mainland family members… and assist them in handling the aftermath”, it said.

The incident has added to escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has in recent years ramped up rhetoric of unifying China and Taiwan, while the Chinese military has stepped up pressure on the island by deploying warplanes and naval vessels around it on a near-daily basis.

Taiwan had a presidential election in January, which saw the win of Democratic Progressive Party’s Lai Ching-te – a candidate Beijing considers a “separatist”.

Source: News Agencies