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Q&A/Taiwan and China's dispute over the waters around Kinmen

02/19/2024 02:15 PM
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Taipei, Feb. 19 (CNA) On Feb. 14, Taiwan's Coast Guard responded after a Chinese speedboat trespassed within 1.1 nautical miles of the eastern coast of the Island of Kinmen, setting off a chase in which the Chinese boat capsized, causing the deaths of two of the four men on board.

In the days since the incident, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) has argued that the Coast Guard was acting legally to chase off a boat within Kinmen's "prohibited or restricted waters."

China, meanwhile, strongly condemned Taiwan for the men's deaths. It has also contested the concept of "prohibited or restricted areas," arguing that fishermen from both sides of the Taiwan Strait have traditionally operated in the waters around Xiamen and Kinmen, which are separated by a distance of less than 10 kilometers.

Taiwan Coast Guard personnel surround a Chinese speed boat that capsized in Taiwanese waters off Kinmen on Feb. 14. Photo courtesy of Kinmen-Matsu-Penghu Branch, Coast Guard Administration
Taiwan Coast Guard personnel surround a Chinese speed boat that capsized in Taiwanese waters off Kinmen on Feb. 14. Photo courtesy of Kinmen-Matsu-Penghu Branch, Coast Guard Administration

When were the "prohibited waters" (禁止水域) and "restricted waters" (限制水域) around Kinmen established?

The boundaries were set by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense in 1992.

Although Beijing does not recognize Taiwan's territorial claims (since it claims Taiwan as its own territory), the MAC argues that China has tacitly abided by the boundaries, such that denying them now constitutes a changing of the status quo.

What do the terms "prohibited waters" and "restricted waters" mean?

According to Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration, the term "prohibited waters" refers to territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles around Taiwan proper, and varying distances around Taiwan's outlying islands.

"Restricted waters" refers to a contiguous zone, which states use to bolster their law enforcement capacity in the area just outside their territorial seas. This contiguous zone extends 24 nautical miles around Taiwan proper, and varying distances around Taiwan's outlying islands.

Taiwan authorizes its Coast Guard to search and seize foreign vessels entering the country's prohibited waters.

Under existing protocols, the Coast Guard is authorized to search and seize foreign boats that continue to operate in Taiwan's restricted waters after being warned twice to leave the area.

Where are the current boundaries around Kinmen?

At present, the prohibited zone around the main islands of Kinmen and Little Kinmen extends about halfway to the Chinese coast to the north and northeast, up to about 4 kilometers to the east, and about 8 kilometers to the south.

By contrast, in the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands -- which are slightly farther off China's coast than Kinmen -- the prohibited and restricted zones extend 4 km and 6 km, respectively, around the archipelago.

What are the recent developments in the dispute?

On Sunday, China's coast guard said it planned to step up its patrols around the Kinmen Islands to strengthen its maritime law enforcement. As of Monday morning, ship tracking information on the China Ports website showed four Chinese coast guard vessels operating in waters just outside the prohibited zone to the northeast, east and south of Kinmen.

CNA graphic showing the locations of four Chinese Coast Guard vessels (red arrows) near Kinmen as of 11:15 a.m. Monday. Sources: Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, Chinaports Shiptracker
CNA graphic showing the locations of four Chinese Coast Guard vessels (red arrows) near Kinmen as of 11:15 a.m. Monday. Sources: Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, Chinaports Shiptracker

What has the reaction been in Taiwan?

The MAC claims the Feb. 14 incident happened amid an ongoing influx of Chinese boats, often without names or registry information, in Taiwanese waters, which refuse to comply with Taiwanese authorities and engage in dangerous maneuvers to evade them.

Some Taiwanese analysts have speculated that the trespassing ships -- mainly fishing vessels and sand dredgers -- are being used as a "grey zone" tactic to erode Taiwan's claims on waters around Kinmen and Matsu.

Meanwhile, Kuomintang lawmaker Jessica Chen (陳玉珍), who represents Kinmen, has called on the central government to authorize the local governments in Kinmen and Matsu to engage in direct negotiations with China on economic issues, such as fishing rights, to avoid misunderstandings.

(By Matthew Mazzetta)

Enditem/ASG

Related News

Feb. 19: After incident, Chinese boats patrol waters near Taiwan-held Kinmen

Feb. 18: China using 'gray zone' tactics after deadly Kinmen boat case: Experts

Feb. 16: Tsai reiterates Taiwan's willingness to engage in dialogue with China

Feb. 14: 2 dead after Chinese speedboat capsizes in Kinmen waters

Feb. 11: Record 6 Chinese balloons in 24 hours detected flying across Taiwan

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