On frontline Taiwan islands, fishermen wary of China tensions

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 3:02 AM

By Ann Wang and Walid Berrazeg

KINMEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwanese fishermen in sensitive waters around frontline islands near the Chinese coast say they are worried about rising tensions, after two Chinese nationals died during a chase with Taiwan’s coast guard.

The two died when Taiwan’s coast guard tried to expel their boat, which then overturned, after it had gotten too close to an islet that is part of the Kinmen islands, governed from Taipei since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

A furious China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, responded by launching its own coast guard patrols, and on Monday boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat operating off Kinmen.

“After this incident, fishermen will still be psychologically affected to an extent when they go to sea,” said Huang Tsung-feng, secretary of the Kinmen Fishermen’s Association, although he said the number of boats heading to sea in the past few days was still normal.

“If the fishery administration fleet on the mainland comes out, this behaviour will cause some pressure on our fishermen while working at sea. They will be afraid because of this.”

Kinmen, home to around 100,000 people, hosts a large Taiwanese military garrison, just a short boat ride from the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou.

Taiwan’s coast guard patrols its waters, and several of Kinmen’s surrounding islets are heavily fortified and mostly off-limits to civilians, including Beiding, the islet near where the Chinese boat overturned.

China said last week it recognises no banned or restricted waters for fishermen around Kinmen.

One Kinmen fisherman, who asked to be identified by his family name Chen, said Chinese vessels often crossed into Taiwan waters.

“In fact, the most serious problem on our side is the fishermen from the mainland, who come over to our coastal areas to release their nets, sometimes 50 or 60 at a time,” he said.

“When the coast guard comes, they run away; when the coast guard doesn’t come, they just fish over here.”

Kinmen was the scene of sometimes intense fighting between Taiwanese and Chinese forces during the height of the Cold War but is today a popular holiday destination, with many tourists drawn to its old bunkers and bullet-pocked wartime sites.

(Reporting by Ann Wang and Walid Berrazeg; Writing by Fabian Hamacher and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Peter Graff)