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Taiwan Tensions Surge As China’s Coast Guard Boards Tourist Boat, Prompting ‘Panic’

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The recent incident involving the interception of a Taiwanese tourist boat by China’s coast guard near strategically significant frontline islands has caused “panic” among the people of Taiwan, according to a government minister.

Despite the heightened tension, Taiwan’s military clarified that it has no plans to become involved.

Tensions have been escalating as Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory despite Taiwan’s rejection, remains vigilant following the recent election of President Lai Ching-te, viewed by Beijing as a dangerous separatist.

China declared on Sunday that its coast guard would initiate regular patrols and establish law enforcement activities around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands. This move follows the tragic death of two Chinese nationals who attempted to evade Taiwan’s coast guard in restricted waters near Kinmen.

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In the latest development, six Chinese coast guard officers boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat on Monday, inspecting its route plan, certificate, and crew licenses. Taiwan’s coast guard reported that the inspection lasted around half an hour.

Expressing concerns about the incident, Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, stated, “We think it has harmed our people’s feelings and triggered people’s panic. That was also not in line with the interest of the people across the strait.”

China’s coast guard has not provided any public comment, and the Taiwan Affairs Office of China has not responded to requests for comment.

Kuan emphasized that it is not uncommon for Chinese and Taiwanese tourist boats to unintentionally enter each other’s waters, asserting, “Boats like these are not illegal at all.”

Kinmen, controlled by Taipei since 1949, is in close proximity to the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou. It has been a significant area of contention since the Republic of China government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists. Despite hosting a large Taiwanese military garrison, Taiwan’s coast guard is responsible for patrolling its waters.

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Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng clarified that, to avoid escalating tensions, the military will not “actively intervene” in the incident. “Let’s handle the matter peacefully,” he urged, emphasizing that a non-escalatory response is crucial.

Kinmen, once a site of frequent conflict during the Cold War, has transformed into a popular tourist destination. However, many of its islets remain heavily fortified by Taiwanese forces and are off-limits to civilians.

China asserts that it does not recognize any restricted or banned zones for its fishermen around Kinmen.

Over the past four years, China’s military has regularly deployed warplanes and warships around Taiwan, seeking to assert its sovereignty claims. Despite recent elections, this assertive stance continues.

A senior Taiwan security official, speaking anonymously, suggested that China may not want to turn the Kinmen incident into an “international incident.” The official believes that Beijing is using the incident as an “excuse” to exert further pressure on President-elect Lai.

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This pressure includes Taiwan losing one of its few remaining diplomatic allies, Nauru, to China, and a change in flight paths in the Taiwan Strait. However, there are concerns that China will continue to increase pressure on Taiwan ahead of Lai’s May 20 inauguration.

Chinese state media reported that Quanzhou Red Cross officials arrived on Kinmen on Tuesday to bring home the two survivors from the boat, which overturned when trying to evade Taiwan’s coast guard last week.

China has never ruled out using force to control Taiwan, while President-elect Lai and Taiwan’s government firmly reject Beijing’s sovereignty, asserting that only the Taiwanese people can decide their future.

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi

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