China-Taiwan tensions surge as Beijing increases patrolling following fishermen’s deaths

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Tensions are escalating in the waters near Taiwan as China intensifies patrols around a group of islands controlled by Taiwan. This move comes in the aftermath of the death of two Chinese fishermen who drowned during a pursuit by Taiwan’s coast guard, accusing them of trespassing, CNN reported.

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. Gan Yu, a spokesperson for China’s coast guard, stated that the objective is to “further maintaining the order of operations in the relevant waters and protecting the lives and property of fishermen.”

The decision to increase patrols raises concerns about heightened proximity between Chinese and Taiwanese coast guard vessels, potentially increasing the risk of miscalculation and conflict, as reported by CNN. The recent escalation followed an incident where a Chinese speedboat capsized while attempting to evade Taiwan’s coast guard, alleging trespassing for fishing in waters approximately 1 nautical mile off Kinmen’s coast.

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Two crew members survived after being rescued by Taiwan’s coast guard, while the other two were found unconscious and confirmed dead after being taken to the hospital in Kinmen. China has strongly condemned the incident, blaming Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and accusing them of forcibly seizing mainland fishing boats and mistreating mainland fishermen.

The Taiwan Affairs Office in China stated that the incident during the Lunar New Year holiday seriously hurt the feelings of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan authorities expressed regret over the deaths but maintained that their coast guard officers were acting within the bounds of the law. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office further escalated the rhetoric, expressing “strong indignation” in mainland China and denying Taiwan’s designation of “restricted” waters near Kinmen.

The office asserted that fishermen from both sides have been operating in traditional fishing grounds in the Xiamen-Kinmen waters since ancient times, rejecting the idea of “prohibited or restricted waters.” It urged Taiwan authorities to release the surviving fishermen from custody. In response, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing the law in the waters it controls, expelling or detaining trespassing vessels.

It disputed Beijing’s accusations of “rough expulsions,” attributing the incident to constant intrusions by unidentified ships that lack certification or port registration. The council stated that the case is under investigation by Taiwanese prosecutors. Kuan Bi-ling, Taiwan’s Minister of Ocean Affairs Council, assured that the surviving fishermen under Taiwan’s custody were being cared for and would be repatriated as the case progressed.

Kuan highlighted Taiwan’s previous rescue efforts for mainland Chinese fishermen and cargo ships, emphasising the humanitarian approach despite rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Over the past three years, Taiwan’s coast guard has reportedly rescued 20 individuals from mainland China. China has been applying economic, military, and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan and has severed most communications with Taipei since the Democratic Progressive Party came to power in 2016.

In previous years, during the more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government’s term, joint maritime drills were held for search and rescue operations, CNN reported.