Taiwan says five China coast guard ships entered waters near frontline islands


Taiwan has a large military garrison on Kinmen, the scene of frequent fighting during the height of the Cold War, and Taiwan’s coast guard patrols its waters. - PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (Reuters): Five Chinese coast guard ships entered prohibited or restricted waters around Taiwan's frontline islands of Kinmen on Monday but left shortly after being warned away, a Taiwan minister said on Tuesday amid a continued rise in tensions with Beijing.

China's coast guard this month began regular patrols around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, which are close to China's coast, after two Chinese nationals died trying to flee Taiwan's coast guard after their boat entered prohibited waters.

Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan's Ocean Affairs Council, which runs the coast guard, told reporters at parliament that the Chinese boats left the area shortly after Taiwan's coast guard told them to leave.

"The political significance is high, which is a form of a declaration of sovereignty," she said.

China's coast guard, which has no publicly available contact details, has yet to comment.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office said it would comment at its regular news briefing on Wednesday. It said this month that it recognises no off-limits or restricted waters for Chinese fishing boats around Kinmen.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory despite the island's rejection, has been wary of efforts by Beijing to ramp up pressure on Taipei following last month's election of Lai Ching-te as president. Beijing considers Lai a separatist.

Taiwan has a large military garrison on Kinmen, the scene of frequent fighting during the height of the Cold War, but Taiwan's coast guard patrols its waters.

Taiwan's defence ministry said last week it is not bolstering its forces on the islands close to China, which include the Matsu archipelago up the coast from Kinmen.

Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, also speaking at parliament, said he hoped what was happening around Kinmen would not escalate and would be "smoothly handled".

"We don't want to see any combat conditions occur," he said.

Kinmen is a short boat ride from the Chinese cities of Xiamen and Quanzhou. Taipei has controlled it since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's Communists, who set up the People's Republic of China.

Six Chinese coast guard officers last week boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat carrying 11 crew and 23 passengers to check its route plan, certificate and crew licences, leaving about half an hour later, Taiwan's coast guard said.

China recognises no sovereignty claims by Taiwan, and has accused Taiwan of acting "maliciously" by causing the deaths of the two Chinese nationals on the fishing boat, which had gotten too close to one of Kinmen's heavily fortified islets.

Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen told reporters the government will enforce "necessary evictions" in accordance with standard operating procedures.

"We in Taiwan are concerned about safeguarding the rights of fishermen and the safety of the sea. In fact, all our practices are the same as those of other countries around the world," he said. (Reporting By Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle) - Reuters

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