11 July 2024

Taiwan has called on China to release a fishing boat that it said was seized by the Chinese coast guard in waters near Taiwanese outlying islands.

The Chinese coast guard has stepped up patrols around Taiwan’s Kinmen islands in recent months after a series of deadly fishing accidents, one of which led to bitter blame-trading between the two sides.

The Kinmen islands are administered by Taipei but are located just five kilometres (three miles) from the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan’s coast guard said it received a report at 08:14 pm (1214 GMT) on Tuesday from the owner of a fishing boat that two Chinese coast guard vessels had intercepted it around 23.7 nautical miles (44 kilometres) from Kinmen’s Liaoluo port.

It dispatched two patrol vessels “to try to rescue” the fishing boat, along with a third for assistance, but one was “blocked by” Chinese coast guard ships, Taiwan’s coast guard said in a statement on Tuesday night.

“We broadcast to the Chinese coast guard ship, demanding the immediate release of our fishing boat. The Chinese side also broadcast to us, asking not to interfere,” it said.

“To avoid escalating the conflict, we have decided to stop the chase,” the coast guard said, adding the fishing boat was taken to China’s Weitou port.

The coast guard did not specify how many were onboard the fishing boat but local media reported there were two Taiwanese and three Indonesians.

China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has not renounced the use of force to bring the island under control.

It has ramped up political and military pressure on the island in recent years and conducted military drills around the island days after the May 20 inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te.

In February, the capsizing of a Chinese fishing boat while pursued by Taiwan’s coast guard further strained cross-strait relations, after a survivor reportedly said the boat was “rammed”.

But Taiwan insisted its coast guard was following legitimate procedures after the Chinese vessel entered “prohibited waters” and was zigzagging to evade the Taiwanese patrol.