by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: rheins/WikiCommons/CC BY 3.0

CHINA HAS DETAINED a Taiwanese fishing vessel and its sailors in an incident that shows the tenuousness of Taiwan’s position when it comes to efforts to avoid escalation.

The Da Jin Man 88 was intercepted by two Chinese Coast Guard vessels near Kinmen last night around 8:10 PM. The fishing vessel was manned by a Taiwanese captain and five migrant fishermen.

The Taiwanese Coast Guard dispatched three vessels to assist, engaging in a chase with the two Chinese Coast Guard vessels. However, the vessel that approached the Da Jin Man 88 was told not to interfere and the Taiwanese Coast Guard relented in order to avoid escalation, with four other Chinese Coast Guard vessels having been detected approaching.

The Da Jin Man 88 was detained and it is reported that it is now in the Port of Weitou in Fujian. It is unclear what the condition of its crew is. A number of other fishing vessels were in the area and observed the Da Jin Man 88 being intercepted, with Taiwanese media reporting that there was long an informal consensus for fishing vessels to be allowed to operate, but now this has been broken.

The Da Jin Man 88 being intercepted and taken to Fujian takes place after other reported incidents of Taiwanese fishing vessels being searched by the Chinese Coast Guard. Reportedly, the Chinese Coast Guard has increased activity around Kinmen as of late, including searches of Taiwanese vessels such as fishing boats and tourist ferries.

This takes place after a series of incidents that may have provided the pretext for an escalation in Chinese Coast Guard activity, The first involved the deaths of two purported Chinese fishermen who were in a boat intruding into Kinmen territorial waters in February. After the Taiwanese Coast Guard gave chase, the boat collided with a Taiwanese vessel and capsized, with two of the four men without vital signs when recovered.

The Chinese government framed the incident as due to harassment by the Taiwanese Coast Guard, which it claimed to be a regular occurrence under the Tsai administration. The Taiwanese Coast Guard was, likewise, criticized for not immediately disclosing that the deaths occurred after a collision. By contrast, the onus was on Taiwan to avoid appearing as an aggressor, as a result of which the Taiwanese Coast Guard ordered body cameras to provide greater transparency in the future.

Shuitou Wharf in Kinmen, which has ferries connecting Kinmen and China. Photo credit: Vmenkov/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

There have been several incidents of Chinese harassment of Taiwanese vessels in the past fishing season. In the past fishing season, Chinese Coast Guard ships have appeared in waters around Kinmen four times.

Incidents of cooperation between the Taiwanese and Chinese Coast Guard still took place afterward for rescue operations. Yet in a subsequent incident, two Taiwanese fishermen were rescued by the Chinese Coast Guard after the boat they were in went adrift. However, one of these fishermen continues to be held by China after it transpired that he was an active duty member of the Kinmen garrison.

After this, a further incident involved a speedboat making it to Tamsui before being discovered. The Chinese man, a former People’s Liberation Army Navy captain, claimed to wish to defect to Taiwan. Nevertheless, authorities raised questions about his story, even as the incident was criticized as a security breach. It has been brought up that the speedboat may have been released from a larger vessel in the Taiwan Strait, rather than having made it all the way over alone.

The detention of the Da Jin Man 88 may be a deliberate attempt to escalate. But, either way, it will probably be framed as only a response to actions by Taiwan, such as with regards to how the Taiwanese Coast Guard has responded to incidents of sand dredging in Taiwanese waters by Chinese vessels, off the coast of Mazu, or incidents of Chinese vessels driven off the coast of Taichung. The modus operandi of the Chinese Coast Guard will be to frame its actions as reciprocal or only a response to Taiwan’s actions.

In the meantime, it is to be seen how Taiwan decides to respond. For one, Taiwan will not want to come off as weak in the face of China, as such an incident may be intended to create the perception of. China wishes to create the perception that it already controls the maritime domain of Kinmen, both as directed toward Taiwan and external actors, in order to increase its reach over Kinmen.

But Taiwan will also want to avoid escalation. One notes that the Taiwanese navy previously stated that it would not increase patrols in Kinmen in response to previous actions by the Chinese Coast Guard, so as to avoid escalation not just between coast guards between Taiwan and China, but also of the military. It is unknown what courses of action Taiwan takes going forward, then.

No more articles