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Chinese coast guard boards Taiwanese tourist boat as it steps up patrols

The rare boarding near Kinmen, a Taiwanese-controlled archipelago off the Chinese coast, comes after two Chinese fishermen drowned while being chased by Taiwan’s coast guard.
Kinmen - The Taiwanese Island With Strong Links To China
The Taiwanese-controlled archipelago of Kinmen, in the foreground, is about 3 miles from the Chinese city of Xiamen.An Rong Xu / Getty Images file

HONG KONG — China’s coast guard briefly boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat, a Taiwanese official said Tuesday, escalating a dispute with the Beijing-claimed island over the deaths of two Chinese fishermen.

China said Sunday that it would strengthen law enforcement activities and carry out regular patrols around Kinmen, a small group of Taiwanese-controlled islands off the Chinese coast, after the two fishermen drowned last week while being chased by Taiwan’s coast guard, which accused them of trespassing.

Six Chinese coast guard officers boarded the Taiwanese sightseeing vessel Monday afternoon, Taiwan’s coast guard said in a statement. It said the boat, which was carrying 11 crew members and 23 passengers, was “veering” toward mainland China because of shallow beaches in the nearby waters of Kinmen, which is about 3 miles from the Chinese city of Xiamen.

The officers spent about half an hour on the boat, where they inspected its sailing plan and certificate and the licenses of the captain and crew, Taiwan’s coast guard said.

The rare boarding “hurts the feelings of our people, provokes fear among them and is not in the interest of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council, which oversees the island’s coast guard, told reporters in Taipei on Tuesday.

She said it was not unusual for tourist vessels from both Taiwan and China to cross into each other’s waters by accident.

“Boats like these are not illegal at all,” she added.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not answer a phone call seeking comment. Last week, it strongly condemned the deaths of the two Chinese fishermen and demanded that Taiwan release two others who were detained.

China Taiwan Tensions
“Boats like these are not illegal at all,” Kuan Bi-ling of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council told reporters in Taipei on Tuesday.Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images

The Kinmen archipelago, which is home to about 140,000 people, has been governed by Taiwan since 1949, when China’s Nationalists escaped to the island and set up a rival government after losing a civil war to the Communist forces of Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China. These days, it is a popular tourist spot, though it is heavily guarded by Taiwan’s military and civilian access is restricted.

China, which has not ruled out the use of force in unifying with democratic Taiwan, has in recent years stepped up military, economic and diplomatic pressure on the island, which rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that 24 Chinese military aircraft and eight military ships had been detected around the island in the previous 24 hours, including 11 planes that crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line, a longtime unofficial buffer zone that Chinese aircraft now traverse regularly.