Taiwan seeks to play down China tensions following coast guard incidents

Defence ministry in Taipei says it has not increased military presence around Kinmen islands

Taiwan has sought to play down tensions with Beijing following a series of incidents involving coast guards from both sides in disputed waters around the Kinmen islands. The defence ministry in Taipei said on Wednesday that it had not increased its military presence near the islands, and that there was nothing abnormal about China’s military movements around Taiwan.

The ministry said that the Taiwanese military would not intervene directly in an ongoing maritime dispute with Beijing around the islands. It would follow a policy of “no direct involvement, no escalating of tension”, leaving the coast guard to patrol the waters.

Beijing said it would increase its patrols in the area after two Chinese fishermen drowned off the Kinmen islands on February 14th when their boat capsized during a chase by Taiwanese coast guards. The islands are just 10km from China’s southeastern coast but they are controlled by Taiwan, which keeps a garrison there.

Beijing blamed Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which takes a tough line on cross-strait relations and favours a close relationship with the United States. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused the government in Taipei of showing “disregard for the safety of lives and property of mainland fisherman”.


On Monday mainland Chinese coast guards boarded a Taiwanese tour boat near the islands when it strayed into Chinese territorial waters. Taiwan’s coast guard said that tour boats from the mainland frequently stray into Taiwanese waters but that it does not board such vessels.

As six family members of the two men who died on February 14th travelled to Kinmen to conduct funeral rituals, the two survivors were deported back to the mainland. Li Zhaohui, a senior consultant to the Red Cross Society of China who accompanied the relatives to Kinmen, said the incident had caused strong indignation on the mainland.

“Our visit to Kinmen is to understand the truth, assist with post-incident matters and bring back the two survivors,” he said. “We demand that the relevant Taiwan authorities take the families’ legitimate concerns seriously, co-operate in handling post-incident matters and avoid further harm to the families.”

The incidents around the Kinmen islands follow a decision by Taipei to suspend a planned resumption of group tours to the mainland from June 1st. This was a response to Beijing’s unilateral change to a flight path close to the median line between the mainland and Taiwan, which the self-governing island viewed as part of an attempt to change the status quo for military purposes.

Transport minister Wang Kwo-tsai said this week that Taipei could reverse the decision on group tours if Beijing shows it is willing to allow groups from the mainland to visit Taiwan. In the meantime tours to the mainland planned for March, April and May will be allowed to go ahead.

“We will see how China behaves before June 1st, whether it shows goodwill by allowing Chinese tour groups to visit Taiwan, and whether it has restrained itself from breaching and disrespecting Taiwan’s sovereignty,” he said. “We are willing to review our policy if the goodwill is received by June 1st, or group tours to China would continue to be banned.”

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Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times