China coast guard boarded Taiwanese boat near frontline islands, Taiwan says

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 7:16 AM

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Chinese coast guard personnel briefly boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat near Taiwan-controlled islands next to China’s coast on Monday, the government in Taipei said, in an escalation of tensions after China said it would carry out regular patrols.

China announced on Sunday that its coast guard would strengthen law enforcement activity around the Kinmen islands following the death of two Chinese nationals fleeing Taiwan’s coast guard having entered into prohibited waters too close to Kinmen, which lies opposite the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou.

Taiwan’s coast guard said in a statement that late afternoon Monday six Chinese coast guard officers had boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat carrying 11 crew members and 23 passengers to check its route plan, certificate and crew licenses, leaving around half an hour later.

Taiwan’s coast guard observed two Chinese coast guard boats approaching the tourist boat and sent a ship of its own which then accompanied the tourist vessel back to port on the main island of Kinmen, it added.

Due to shallow waters, the Taiwanese tourist boat “inclined towards” the Chinese side on its trip, Taiwan’s coast guard said.

There was no immediate comment from China’s coast guard, which does not have publicly available contact details.

Taiwan’s coast guard said it called on China to “uphold peace and rationality” in the sea around Kinmen, and that people should avoid approaching the waters on the Chinese side.

A senior Taiwan official briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity as the official was not authorised to talk to the media, told Reuters that President Tsai Ing-wen was given real-time updates on the situation as it unfolded.

China’s coast guard inspecting Taiwanese ships has long been a scenario Taiwan’s security agencies have been concerned about, the official added.

Taiwan’s presidential office referred questions to the coast guard.

China’s government said on Saturday it recognises no off-limits or restricted zones for Chinese fishermen around Kinmen.

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

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard)