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China using 'gray zone' tactics after deadly Kinmen boat case: Experts

02/18/2024 09:01 PM
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Graphic: Mainland Affairs Council
Graphic: Mainland Affairs Council

Taipei, Feb. 18 (CNA) China's claim that the waters between Taiwan's Kinmen archipelago and China's Xiamen are not a restricted area after a case near Kinmen that left two Chinese fishermen dead is an example of Beijing employing "gray zone" tactics to ratchet up pressure against Taipei, experts said Sunday.

Shen Ming-shih (沈明室), a research fellow at the National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), told CNA on Sunday that the once-held tacit understanding between China and Taiwan that the waters around Kinmen, Matsu, and other outlying islands are "restricted" or "prohibited" appeared to be broken.

"Restricted" or "prohibited" waters refer to maritime areas controlled by Taiwan which, under Taiwanese law, it has the right to defend if Chinese vessels enter.

The contention has arisen after a speedboat from China's Fujian province capsized Wednesday off the coast of Kinmen during a chase by Taiwanese authorities, resulting in two fatalities.

Shen cited an announcement made by China's Taiwan Affairs Office on Saturday that stated "fishermen on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been operating in traditional fishing areas around Xiamen-Kinmen since ancient times, and there is no such thing as 'prohibited or restricted waters.'"

Shen said the announcement was equivalent to China's previous declaration that there was no strait median line and was intended to double down on its claim that waters around Kinmen and Matsu are its internal territorial waters.

Beijing was also trying to dismiss the issue of Chinese fishing boats illegally harvesting fish in Taiwan's waters, Shen said.

He added that Beijing's actions could be an attempt to legitimize future gray zone tactics or military action.

Meanwhile, Yu Tsung-chi (余宗基), the former dean of Fu Hsing Kang College of National Defense University, told CNA on Sunday that China's refusal to acknowledge the "restricted" or "prohibited" waters around Taiwan was evidence of its lack of respect for the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

He questioned how Chinese fishing vessels had previously been seized or driven away if there was no such thing as "restricted" or "prohibited" waters.

China is manipulating the incident, Yu said, adding that Beijing has no choice but to adopt a hardline approach towards Taiwan due to the slew of internal and external challenges it is facing.

In response to Beijing's bolstering of its territorial claim, Yu said Taiwan should internationalize the issue.

He suggested that Coast Guard authorities release images of the speedboat being driven away from waters near Kinmen as evidence of how the authorities' actions were rational and law-abiding.

The government could also seek support from neighboring countries and jointly condemn the Chinese Communist Party for resorting to maritime gray zone tactics, Yu added.

(By Lee Ya-wen and Evelyn Kao)

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