China’s English-language propaganda newspaper the Global Times on Wednesday reported that the Taiwanese coast guard on Thursday last week “inhumanely and savagely” drove away Chinese fishing boats that were seeking shelter from the northeast monsoon close to Penghu County’s Siji Islet (西吉嶼).
The report said that a 3,000-tonne Kaohsiung-class coast guard vessel was dispatched to the area to drive away the Chinese fishing boats from “restricted waters,” putting the vessels’ crew in grave danger.
Chinese Internet users shared the report online and called Taiwan’s coast guard “demented,” while Ta Kung Pao, a Chinese state mouthpiece in Hong Kong, attacked Taiwanese for being “cold-hearted.”
However, there is more to the affair than meets the eye.
In the fall, the northeast monsoon gradually picks up strength. In addition to causing lower temperatures, the monsoon season brings large waves and strong winds to the waters surrounding Taiwan. This is common knowledge to Taiwanese — even more so for the fishers who rely on the sea for living.
In today’s era of modern weather forecasting and advanced communications technology, fishers have access to real-time satellite-based information on wave heights and wind speed in almost every maritime environment on the planet, and can receive radio and Internet-based safety notifications.
It is impossible that the Chinese fishing boats were not aware of the northeast monsoon. In seeking to portray the boats as having innocently sought refuge after chancing upon a storm, Chinese state media are clearly lying through their teeth.
Some might ask: What motivation is there for China to hype up this situation?
First, it is being used as an excuse to provide cover for the unscrupulous activities of Chinese dredging boats which, for the past two years, have been intruding into shallow coastal waters off Penghu and Kinmen counties to extract sand.
The sand is being used for the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport and a land reclamation project at Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport.
Second, Beijing is testing the waters. By creating a storm in a teapot and piling pressure on Taiwan, it is testing whether the government would soften its stance toward Chinese vessels encroaching into Taiwan’s sovereign waters.
If the coast guard strictly enforces the law and drives away the boats, Beijing can use it as an excuse to levy wild accusations in its propaganda campaign against Taiwan.
On the other hand, if the coast guard allows the Chinese vessels to shelter from the monsoon in Taiwanese waters on humanitarian grounds, a precedent would have been set and other Chinese vessels would inevitably follow suit, enabling Beijing to gradually erode the legal enforcement of the nation’s territorial claims.
For this reason, the government cannot afford to let its guard down. It must strictly enforce the law against any incursions by Chinese vessels.
The history of the Chinese Civil War teaches us that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would use ordinary people as human shields during times of war to achieve tactical or strategic aims. They beautified this by calling it the “people’s war.”
Although the CCP has ruled China for more than seven decades, nothing has changed. The “people’s war” has evolved into a key component of the CCP’s “unrestricted warfare” doctrine, which it uses against its foreign enemies.
The tough reality is that if Taiwanese show kindness toward China’s fishing boat militia, they are being cruel to themselves.
John Yu is a civil servant.
Translated by Edward Jones
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