China Responds to February 14th Incident Near Kinmen Island

Kinmen Islands’ location in relation to China and Taiwan

Taiwan Affairs Office’s Response 

On February 17th, Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), gave a statement about the February 14th incident near Kinmen Island that caused the deaths of two Chinese fishermen. Zhu first said that incident significantly angered “all circles on the mainland and seriously hurt the feelings of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.” She stated that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China and that Taiwan is “an unalienable part of China’s territory.” Zhu then pointed out that people on both sides of the Strait have fished in the waters near Kinmen and Jinhai since ancient times. However, Zhu also stated that there are no prohibited or restricted waters surrounding the Kinmen Islands.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian, during press conference

She then urged Taiwan to release the boat and people, conduct a thorough investigation, deal with those responsible, and explain why the incident occurred to both families and people on both sides of the strait. Zhu ended the statement by saying that China “reserves the right to take further measures, and all consequences will be borne by the Taiwan side.”

The TAO also released or reposted several articles beginning on February 17th that highlighted the February 14th incident in a negative light. For example, on February 18th, the TAO released a statement saying they supported the China Coast Guard’s statement regarding increasing patrols near the islands.

The office also reposted a commentary from Xinhua that highlighted how it occurred during the Chinese New Year, which made Taiwan’s “inhumane behavior even more outrageous.” The opinion piece also said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities made excuses about why they fined or seized fishing boats and treated Chinese fishermen in a “rough and dangerous way.” The ‘Xinhua reporter’ also echoed Zhu’s comments that fishermen from both sides of the Strait have fished the waters since ancient times. Furthermore, they also said that the authorities fabricated the prohibited and restricted waters in an effort to confuse the public and ignore the lives of the Chinese fishermen.

County Mayor Chen Fuhai

They also released an article on February 19th that summarized what both Zhu and Xinhua said in their statement and article. However, the article also contained some comments from Xiamen County Mayor Chen Fuhai about the incident, specifically how Kinmen and Xiamen are economically connected. He also said that the fishing grounds surrounding Kinmen and Xiamen overlap with each other. Chen also said he hoped that both sides would move toward each other under the slogan “two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family and share the same sea.”

The article also highlighted the February 18th commentary from Taiwan’s United Daily News critical of the “DPP authorities” and urged them to handle the matter “with more kindness and empathy.” The commentary also echoed the Xinhua opinion piece and TAO articles on how authorities must provide the fishermen detained with the appropriate amount of care.

The piece also questioned how the DPP authorities know where the border is when Xiamen and Jinzhou (Kinmen) are “in the same living circle” and that their fishing areas overlap. The author also asked if the Chinese fishermen were crossing the “boundary” created by “Taiwanese independence” separatists.

China Coast Guard announcement about conducting “regular law enforcement patrol operations” near Kinmen Islands

Chinese Coast Guard Response 

The China Coast Guard (CCG) released a statement about the incident on both its Weibo account and website on February 18th. Spokesperson Gan Yu said that the CCG’s Fujian branch will strengthen the maritime law enforcement force in the area around the Kinmen Islands. Gan also said that the branch will begin “regular law enforcement patrol operations” to safeguard the area and monitor the safety of Chinese fishermen and property.

Six China Coast Guard vessels operating off the coast of Kinmen Island on the afternoon of February 19th, 2024

The China Coast Guard (CCG) released a statement about the incident on both its Weibo account and website on February 18th. Spokesperson Gan Yu said that the CCG’s Fujian branch will strengthen the maritime law enforcement force in the area around the Kinmen Islands. Gan also said that the branch will begin “regular law enforcement patrol operations” to safeguard the area and monitor the safety of Chinese fishermen and property.

The CCG deployed ten vessels that operated off the coast of the Kinmen Islands on February 19th. Four vessels sailed along the prohibited and restricted boundaries in the southern, southeastern, and northern parts of Kinmen Island. The CCG then deployed six vessels in two three-boat teams off the coast of the Kinmen Islands in the afternoon. Beginning around 4 p.m. local time, the two teams sailed around the islands, coming close to the prohibited and restricted lines during their operation. The six vessels continued to operate in the waters close to the boundaries until “late night.”

China Coast Guard personnel on board Hatsu Ri tourist vessel

However, one of the CCG teams shadowed a China Jinxia tourist vessel, called the Hatsu Ri, as it sailed to the northwest of Kinmen Island at 4:30 p.m. local time. The boats shadowed the tourist vessel for approximately 10 minutes before one pulled alongside and six CCG personnel boarded it. The CCG team spent 30 minutes on the vessel and inspected the ship’s voyage plan, ship certificate, captain and crew certificates, and the captain’s signature in the cabin. They disembarked from the vessel at around 5:20 p.m. local time. The team stated the reason for the inspection was due to Hatsu Ri sailing near shallow waters near Wushajiao. However, the Taiwanese Coast Guard (TCG) responded after they were informed that the CCG boarded the vessel and escorted the vessel back to Shuitou Terminal, located on Kinmen Island.

Analysis

China’s delayed response to the February 14th incident likely indicates that the government did not plan the incident or even have guidelines regarding how to respond. However, China’s reaction may indicate that it views the incident as a way to change the status quo around the boundaries surrounding the Kinmen Islands using gray zone tactics. They also chose this specific reaction to assuage the Chinese population’s outrage over the incident while not alienating Kinmen’s population. China will continue to send CCG vessels to sail around the lines that surround the Kinmens to change the narrative. The CCG will also sporadically conduct boardings like the February 19th Hatsu Ri incident to further drive the narrative that China no longer recognizes the boundaries.

The reason why China wants to change the boundaries around Kinmen is to reinforce the narrative that the demarcation lines are not valid due to Taiwan “being a part of China.” For example, in all of the articles that the TAO either reposted or wrote about the incident, it mentioned that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have fished in the waters “since ancient times.” They also mention how there is no such thing as the prohibited and restricted lines around the Kinmen Islands and reference the DPP authorities as the ones who created the lines.

However, the boundaries existed before the current government, and both sides had a ‘tact understanding’ regarding how to administer the waters surrounding Kinmen. This tact understanding allowed both the CCG and TCG to conduct joint exercises and patrols together in the waters. The February 14th incident, however, changed the calculus for China due to two Chinese fishermen drowning because of Taiwan chasing from the boundary.

China also responded to the incident to prevent the anger from Chinese citizens from boiling over into something bigger. Chinese censors deleted comments netizens wrote about the incident in the days directly after it occurred. However, the government likely knew it had to respond in some fashion to prevent criticism from being leveled at it. They also knew that they needed to react in a way that changed the status quo but did not negatively affect the mainland’s relationship with Kinmen.

The need to maintain the relationship between them explains why the February 19th TAO article contained quotes from the Kinmen Mayor, one of its representatives, and an article from United Daily News. Furthermore, China also used these individuals and the news outlet to amplify its narrative since both are either connected to or considered pro-Beijing factions or pan-Blue.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

MORE FROM ATLAS NEWS

Senegalese President Faye Makes First Foreign Visit Since Election

Senegal's newly elected President, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, has made his first visit to a foreign country since his election as President late last month. He has made his visit...

Several Hundred Killed by Cholera, Dengue Fever, in Sudan

The Sudanese Ministry of Health has announced the deaths of several hundred people as a result of cholera and dengue fever as the health situation in the country continues...