Taiwan urges China not to alter situation around waters near frontline islands

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Taiwan urges China not to alter situation around waters near frontline islands © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Shiyu or Lion Islet, which is part of Kinmen County, one of Taiwan’s offshore islands, is pictured with China’s Xiamen in the background, in Kinmen, Taiwan February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo

By Yimou Lee and Fabian Hamacher

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan’s top China policy-making body urged China on Friday not to change the “status quo” around waters near Taiwan’s frontline islands by sending coast guard boats into restricted areas, saying tension should be “controllable”.

Last month Beijing began regular coast guard patrols around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, which hug the Chinese coast, after two Chinese fishermen died trying to flee Taiwan’s coast guard.

“The current situation across the Strait should be controllable,” Jan Jyh-horng, the deputy head and spokesperson of the Mainland Affairs Council, told a press conference. “We don’t want to see any action that breaks the status quo.”

China claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory, over the island’s strong objections. In recent years it has stepped up military activities near Taiwan, with almost-daily incursions into air defence identification zones.

This week, China said it would boost its defence spending by 7.2% this year, fuelling a military budget that has more than doubled during President Xi Jinping’s 11 years in office as Beijing hardens its stance on Taiwan.

When asked if China has toughened its tone on Taiwan in a government work report released this week, Jan said Taipei believed Beijing still wants to use “peaceful means” to engage with Taiwan.

He urged China to have “more confidence” in doing so, and to allow Chinese students and tourists to visit the island, an arrangement suspended after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel.

Taiwan’s National Security Bureau said “peaceful unification” and “cross-strait exchanges” remain Beijing’s top priorities in efforts regarding Taiwan, it said in a report sent to parliament that was reviewed by Reuters.

The bureau believes, however, that Beijing would continue to step up its “multi-front” pressure on Taipei, using military activities to economic coercion to change the status quo.

“They are waiting for an opportunity to change the status quo in the Strait, hoping to pressure and influence our government’s policy on the mainland,” the report said.

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