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China ramps up patrols near Taiwan's islands after deaths of Chinese fishermen

China condemned Taiwan after the deaths of Chinese fishermen and accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of forcefully inspecting Chinese fishing vessels. However, Taiwan maintains its coast guard officers were acting as per the law and the Chinese vessel was trespassing.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Beijing Published on: February 19, 2024 14:23 IST
China, Chinese patrols, Taiwan, Chinese fishermen
Image Source : AP Taiwanese coast guards inspect a vessel that capsised during a chase off the coast of Kinmen archipelago in Taiwan.

Beijing: China has ramped up its patrols near a group of islands controlled by Taiwan, as tensions escalate following the deaths of two Chinese fishermen during a chase by the Taiwanese coast guard who accused them of trespassing. China's coast guard, specifically its Fujian division, announced on Sunday that it would enhance maritime law enforcement and conduct regular patrols in the waters around Xiamen, China, and Taiwan's Kinmen islands, CNN reported.

This came after two Chinese fishermen drowned while being chased by Taiwan's Coast Guard off the coast of Taiwan's Kinmen archipelago, the coast guard said last week while accusing them of trespassing. The deaths are unusual despite the level of Chinese activity in the waters near Kinmen, which is closer to China than it is to Taiwan's main island.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office strongly condemned the deaths and called for an investigation, saying “such a malicious event during the Spring Festival seriously hurts the feelings of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. It accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan of using “all sorts of excuses to forcefully inspect Chinese fishing vessels, and using violent and dangerous methods towards Chinese fishermen".

The unnamed Chinese vessel had been sailing about one nautical mile off the coast of an islet of Kinmen island, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration said in a statement. The Chinese vessel attempted to flee but capsised, leading to the deaths of the Chinese fishermen.

What did China say about increasing patrols?

Gan Yu, a spokesperson for China’s coast guard, said the decision to increase patrols near Taiwanese islands is aimed at "further maintaining the order of operations in the relevant waters and protecting the lives and property of fishermen". The patrols are likely to put Chinese coast guard vessels in closer proximity to their Taiwanese counterparts, potentially raising the risk of miscalculation and conflict.

Following the death of the two fishermen, China said it undermined the “mutual goodwill between compatriots” on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and called the incident the "result of offensive actions pursued by Taiwanese officials”. Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, called on Taipei to ensure the safety of fishermen from the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan authorities on Thursday expressed regret over the deaths but maintained that its coast guard officers were acting on their mandates as per the law. However, China denied Taiwan's designation of "restricted" waters near Kinmen islands and called for the release of two surviving fishermen who were rescued by the Taiwan Coast Guard.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council on Sunday rebuffed Chinese threats and asserted that it will continue to enforce the law in waters it controls and expel or detain trespassing vessels. It also denied Beijing’s accusations of “rough expulsions,” saying the unfortunate incident happened due to “constant intrusions” by ships that have no name and refuse to cooperate.

China increases pressure on Taiwan

China has increased economic, military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan and cut off most communications with Taipei since the DPP came to power in 2016. Over the past three years, at least 20 people from mainland China have been rescued by Taiwan’s coast guard.

China claims Taiwan, as part of the mainland and Beijing’s assertions under current Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule to reclaim the estranged island have gotten louder in recent years sparking concerns about military actions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In the last few years, there was heavy military build-up by the PLA in the Taiwan Straits followed by offensive actions by the Chinese navy, air force and missile forces.

China has also expressed concern over the recent Presidential election in Taiwan in which DPP candidate, Lai Ching-te won defeating Beijing-friendly Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang party. Lai’s victory was regarded as a significant milestone in Taiwan’s politics as it is the first time a political party in the estranged island has won the Presidential election on the pro-independence plank for a third time highlighting the Taiwanese people’s wish to retain the status quo.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office vowed on Sunday further measures, without clarifying further detail. “The Mainland reserves the right to take further action, and all the consequences will be borne by Taiwan,” said Zhu on Sunday. Taiwan split from China during the 1949 civil war, but Beijing continues to regard the island of 23 million with its high-tech economy as Chinese territory.

(with inputs from AP)

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