Record number of Chinese ships enter Taiwan waters near Kinmen island

11 Chinese vessels were detected inside Taiwan’s territorial waters.
2024.05.10
Record number of Chinese ships enter Taiwan waters near Kinmen island A Fujian coast guard vessel patrolling in waters near Taiwan’s Kinmen island on February 25, 2024.
China Coast Guard

Taiwanese authorities said 11 Chinese official vessels intruded into the so-called “prohibited” and “restricted waters” around Taiwan’s outlying Kinmen island, a record number entering its waters at one time.

On Thursday afternoon, seven Chinese vessels, including maritime patrol and fisheries ships, entered Kinmen’s restricted waters and conducted a maritime exercise there with three Chinese fishing boats, the Taiwanese coast guard said in a statement.

This group of ships was as close as 4 nautical miles (7.4 km) from Liaoluo Bay on Kinmen island, it said. 

At the same time, another group of four Chinese coast guard ships entered prohibited waters south of Kinmen. 

“Prohibited” and “restricted” waters are the tacit boundaries between Taiwan’s outer islands and China’s mainland that both sides have been adhering to.  

“Prohibited waters” refer to the territorial waters around Kinmen that extend about halfway to the Chinese coast, or roughly 4 km (2.5 miles) to the north and northwest. “Restricted waters” extend a little further, about 8 km (5 miles), to the south.

Map (1).jpg
“Prohibited” and “restricted” waters around the island of Kinmen. (Taiwan Central News Agency)

Taiwan’s coast guard dispatched a total of six vessels to monitor and broadcast warnings to the two groups of Chinese ships. 

The statement added China’s activities “seriously undermined cross-Strait peace, stability and navigation safety, as well as hurt the feelings of people on both sides of the Strait.”

China has yet to respond to the allegation but the armed forces’ China Military Online website on Thursday posted a feature about what it called “regular law enforcement patrols in waters near Kinmen.”

Regular patrols

The 11 Chinese ships reportedly stayed for about 90 minutes in the area before heading back to Xiamen on China’s side. This is the first time the Chinese coast guard has been joined by ships from other Chinese government agencies.

In February, both Taipei and Beijing said they would “enforce the law” in the waters between Kinmen island and China’s mainland after an incident that resulted in the deaths of two Chinese men.

“China has used the death of its two fishermen to effectively erase the prohibited and restricted boundaries around Kinmen,” said Ben Lewis, an independent defense analyst based in Washington who has been tracking Chinese military movements.

“The defense ministry in Beijing has recently said that it ‘normalized’ law enforcement patrols near Kinmen, and this latest incursion is a natural extension of that normalization,” Lewis noted.

Experts say in the run up to the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, on May 20, there will likely be more such incursions as China has always ramped up military activities ahead of Taiwan’s major political events.

Kinmen is less than 10 km (6.2 miles) from China’s Fujian province coast and the “restricted” and “prohibited” waters serve as a means for Taiwan to ensure safety and security in a very busy waterway, according to Lewis.

Another analyst, Su Tzu-yun, a research fellow at state-run Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, explained that the boundaries around outer islands such as Kinmen and Matsu were originally set by Taiwan as “defensive cordon lines” to safeguard security and regulate maritime traffic and rather than to claim territorial sovereignty.

“The Chinese side deliberately ignored Taiwan’s goodwill and demonstrated unilateralism, which is not conducive to peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Su told RFA.

“We shall remain vigilant but be careful not to overreact,” he said, comparing Taipei’s tactic to that of Finland in dealing with Russia’s invasions of its airspace. “Taiwan should appeal to international law and public opinion for support, which would emphasize that the responsibility rests entirely with China.” 

Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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