• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Updated Feb 21, 2024, 6:22pm EST
securityEast Asia
icon

Semafor Signals

Tensions flare between China and Taiwan over coast guard incidents

Insights from Cautionary Advice, DW, and the Taipei Times

Arrow Down
Taiwanese coast guard
REUTERS/Ann Wang
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

Beijing and Taipei’s long-running sovereignty dispute over waters between the mainland and Taiwan’s Kinmen islands flared up again this week after the Chinese coast guard boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat — days after a separate incident in which two Chinese fishermen died.

The sightseeing ferry King Xia was passing around the Kinmen archipelago, which lies a few miles off the coast of China’s Fujian province, when six coast guard officials detained the boat and demanded to see official documentation.

AD

It comes one week after Taiwan’s coast guard chased a Chinese fishing vessel that had entered Taiwanese waters, leading the boat to capsize and two fishermen to drown.

The flare-up also comes after Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won in recent elections, leading to fears of retaliation by Beijing, which claims Taiwan as a renegade province of China.

Experts say that both Beijing and Taipei want to avoid provoking a larger military conflict, but that incidents like these undermine efforts to maintain regional stability.

AD
icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

China ramps up coast guard presence so as not to be seen as recognizing Taiwanese waters

Source icon
Sources:  
Cautionary Advice, TIME, DW

While China and Taiwan have had several coast guard skirmishes in recent years, the drowning of two Chinese fishermen being pursued by the Taiwanese coast guard enraged the Chinese public, prompting Beijing to step up its coast guard presence around the Kinmen islands. “Taiwan shirked its responsibility and downplayed the deaths of the two people” by reportedly failing to record the pursuit, wrote blogger Ji Shuoming for Cautionary Advice, a WeChat blog focusing on cross-strait relations. While a Chinese official lambasted Taiwan for “such a vicious incident,” Beijing was “uncharacteristically restrained” in the days after the drownings, TIME reported — in what one Singapore-based professor said may be a “tacit recognition” that the boat was fishing illegally. However, China later backtracked and increased its coast guard presence around Kimen. While China doesn’t want to escalate the conflict, authorities likely felt their “low-key manner was a recognition of [Taiwanese] waters,” one Taiwanese security analyst told DW.

Taiwan must tread a fine line to balance sovereignty rights with safety

Source icon
Sources:  
Taipei Times, Voice of America, Taiwan News

Taiwanese analysts pointed to the need for the island to walk a fine line, vigilantly defending its sovereign claims in the Taiwan Strait on the one hand, while not provoking an unintended conflict with Beijing on the other. Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te — a staunch supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty who is only expected to drive Taipei further away from the Chinese Communist Party — has backed the coast guard’s “firm” response to the fishermen incident. China has gradually ramped up its coast guard activities in the disputed waters, in what some see as an attempt to consolidate sovereignty, but if Taiwan’s responses were to cause further accidents, the situation risks “spiraling out of control,” one analyst wrote for the Taipei Times. A Taipei-based military researcher told Voice of America that Taiwan “needs to be prepared for the worst case scenario” and should keep more ready-to-deploy military vessels near the Kinmen. But he added that it may also need to engage Beijing in dialogue about maritime law enforcement.

Chinese coast guard’s aggression in the Philippines is driving Manila closer to Washington

Source icon
Source:  
Al Jazeera

Beijing’s expansionist claims in the South China Sea, where it is building artificial islands as military outposts, is also driving a wedge with the Philippines. Manila last year documented numerous incidents of Chinese coast guard vessels harassing Filipino troops and fishermen, including using military-grade lasers and water cannons against ships trying to access fishing spots off the coast of the Philippines, Al Jazeera reported. (China denies the claims.) In response, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has moved closer to Washington, announcing the return of U.S. troops to the country after a three decades-long absence. Despite China having deep economic ties to the Philippines, Beijing’s aggression is hurting “China’s image in the region…and perhaps in some ways its influence,” one analyst told Al Jazeera.

Semafor Logo
AD