On March 16, the Taiwanese fishing boat Juiyu 31 reported that its nets were entangled with those of a Chinese fishing boat, the Zhelingyu 69088 — which had entered Taiwanese waters without authorization — 17 nautical miles (31.5km) northeast of Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼). A Coast Guard Administration boat, the PP-10018, responded to the call, and CGA officers boarded the Zhelingyu to carry out an inspection of the vessel.
The officers were held under duress by the captain of the Chinese boat, which has been met with indignation from many quarters, but the fact that these officers were unable to protect themselves is something of a national embarrassment, and has made the nation the subject of international ridicule.
What is most shocking about this affair is that it was only because the boats’ fishing nets became entangled that the coast guard were at the scene.
In the past, the waters around the Pengjia Islet were exclusive fishing areas for Taiwanese fishermen. The fishing areas northwest of the islet lie to the east — on Taiwan’s side — of the imaginary maritime border known as the cross-strait median and are supposed to be for Taiwanese fishermen only.
However, over the past several years, Chinese fishermen have taken over the area. In the crabbing season, Chinese fishing boats can be found dotted all over the area, crowding out Taiwanese boats. The presence of the Zhelingyu 69088 at the site of this latest incident means that the Chinese vessel had gone way over the cross-strait median, 24 nautical miles into the restricted waters northeast of Taiwan.
Had the nets not become entangled, would the Zhelingyu 69088 have been left to fish in peace, to return to China with a full hold? Could it be that this area has, in effect, become the exclusive fishing grounds of Chinese fishermen?
In the past, Chinese fishermen would not have dared cross the median line. More recently, they have come to ignore the line altogether, and now intrude 24 nautical miles into restricted waters northeast of Taiwan. How has it come to this, that these fishermen are working in the waters northwest and northeast of the Pengjia Islet? Perhaps the flexible way in which the law is being enforced needs to be examined.
Flexible enforcement undoubtedly has its place, especially when it comes to fishing rights on the high seas. Fishermen, wherever they come from, have a very difficult life. Bullying them around with the might of the Coast Guard Administration is not the way a civilized country should behave. However, flexible enforcement and tolerance only make the Chinese fishermen bolder. Although there are measures in place for the enforcement of the laws, it is still necessary, before the coast guard boats set out, for the crew to first collect stones and to ensure they have shields. The shields are needed to stop the stone projectiles hurled at them by the Chinese fishermen. The stones are needed so that they can “return fire.”
In this case, because of the sensitive cross-strait situation, the officers who boarded the Zhelingyu 69088 were armed only with electroshock batons and truncheons. If they wanted to be even more “flexible” in enforcing the law, they should not even bother leaving port. The toothless policy on enforcement exposes coast guard personnel in the front line to ridicule and attacks by Chinese fishermen. It is time to reinforce the measures available to them to deal with violations of the rules.