Accessibility links

Breaking News

Taiwan Protests After China Boards a Tourist Boat Near Kinmen Island

A fishing boat arrives at a port in Kinmen, Taiwan, Feb. 21, 2024.
A fishing boat arrives at a port in Kinmen, Taiwan, Feb. 21, 2024.

Taiwan on Tuesday protested China's boarding of a tourist boat, as tensions rise around the Kinmen archipelago, which lies a short distance off China's coast but is controlled by Taiwan.

Taiwanese media reported the King Xia, carrying 11 crew and 23 passengers, was boarded by the Chinese coast guard for about 32 minutes on Monday. Taiwan's coast guard escorted the boat back to Kinmen, and it then continued its sight-seeing voyage.

Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling told journalists at the legislature on Tuesday that the incident "hurt the feelings of our people, created panic among the people, and was not in the interest of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait," referring to the 160 kilometer- (100 mile)-wide waterway that separates mainland China from Taiwan, a self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own territory.

Premier Chen Chien-jen said Taiwan was seeking to lower tensions in the area, which have escalated as China increased military activities following Taiwan's election of an independence-leading president in January.

"We hope that this matter can be resolved properly," Chen said. "We hope that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will adopt a rational, reciprocal, and cooperative approach to maintain the security of the waters between Kinmen and (the Chinese port city of) Xiamen and allow people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to communicate in a more healthy and orderly manner."

China is stepping up patrols in the waters off the coast of Kinmen and its associated islands, days after two Chinese fishermen drowned while being chased by the Taiwanese coast guard, which accused the boat of trespassing.

Taiwan's coast guard said a boat carrying four people was fishing about one nautical mile away from Kinmen, which Taiwan has claimed as a restricted area largely for military purposes and capsized during a chase. Relatives of the deceased arrived on Kinmen to preside at traditional funeral services and to bring their cremated remains home. The two survivors were also sent back to mainland China, according to Taiwan's official Central News Agency.

China blamed Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party for the fishermen's deaths. It also said that there was no such thing as "restricted" waters.

A spokesperson for the Chinese coast guard said Sunday that its Fujian division will regularly monitor the waters off the southern coast of Xiamen — within view of Kinmen — to strengthen maritime law enforcement.

China's Foreign Ministry declined to answer questions on the matter, saying it was not a "diplomatic issue," in a reflection of Beijing's refusal to recognize Taiwan as a independent political identity with its own legitimate governing organs.

Fishermen from both Taiwan and China regularly sail that stretch of water, which has seen a rise in tensions as the number of Chinese vessels — including sand dredgers and fishing boats — have notably increased in the area.

Kinmen residents have complained of both the noise and sound pollution from the vessels, as well as losses to their livelihood in fishing.

Taiwan split from China during the 1949 civil war, but Beijing continues to regard the island of 23 million and its outlying islands as Chinese territory and has been ramping up its threat to achieve that by military force if necessary.

In addition to piling diplomatic, political and military pressure on Taiwan, China is seen as seeking to bring Kinmen into its orbit, along with Taiwan-controlled island group of Matsu, which lies off the Chinese coast to the north. Taiwanese forces based in the area have fired at drones sent over from the mainland in what is seen as a hybrid civilian-military effort to sow fear and undermine support for Taiwan's government.

China regularly sends warplanes and navy ships into areas surrounding the island. In the 24 hours leading up to 6 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 military aircraft and eight ships were detected operating around the island, Taiwan's Defense Ministry reported, adding that 11 of the planes crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait. It said Taiwan scrambled jets, dispatched ships and put land-based missile defenses on alert, all standard responses to what has become a near-daily show of force between the sides.