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China’s latest weapon against Taiwan: sand dredger

On board the Taiwan Coast Guard ship PP-10062, East China Sea — Taiwan’s Coast Guard commander, Lin Chie-min, is at the forefront of a new type of war China is waging against Taiwan. Chinese weapon? sand.

On a chilly morning in late January, Mr. Hayashi in an orange uniform stood on the rolling deck of a boat while patrolling the rippling waters off Matsu Island, which is run by Taiwan. From Mr. Lin’s ship, a few kilometers away, the coast of China was faintly visible. He was looking for a Chinese sand dredger to invade Taiwan-controlled waters.

China’s goal, says Taiwan officials: to detain the island’s democratic naval defenses and put pressure on Taiwan by damaging the livelihoods of the pine population.

Thirty minutes after the patrol, Mr Lin’s nine crew found two 3,000-ton dredgers and dwarfed the 100-ton ship. Neither of the dredgers parked just outside the waters of Taiwan had a clear name, making it difficult for the crew to identify the name when looking through binoculars.

Upon finding Mr. Lin’s boat, armed with two water cannons and a machine gun, the dredger immediately lifted the anchor and returned to the Chinese coast.

“They think the area is part of China’s territory,” Lin said of China’s dredger. Invaded the pine sea. “They usually leave after we drive them away, but come back again after we leave.”

Sand dredging is one of the weapons China is using against Taiwan in the so-called Gray Zone War campaign. This involves using irregular tactics to exhaust the enemy without actually relying on field battles. Since June last year, Chinese dredgers have swarmed around Matsu Island, anchoring and scooping large amounts of sand from the seabed for China’s construction projects.

The ploy is taxing the Coast Guard, which is run by Taiwanese civilians. The Coast Guard is currently patrolling 24 hours a day to repel Chinese vessels. Taiwanese officials and residents of Matsu Island say the dredging invasion had other corrosive effects — disrupting the local economy, damaging submarine communication cables and threatening residents and tourists to the island. Local officials are also afraid that dredging is destroying nearby marine life.

In addition to the 13,300 pine trees, the Coast Guard says China is dredging in the shallow waters near the midline of the Taiwan Strait, which has long served as an informal cushioning material separating China and Taiwan.

Last year, Taiwan expelled nearly 4,000 Chinese sand dredger and sand transport vessels from its controlled waters, according to the Taiwan Coast Guard. Most of them are in the area near the midline. This is 560% higher than the 600 Chinese vessels repulsed in 2019 as a whole.

In Matsu, many Chinese vessels sailed near the Taiwan sea area without actually entering the port, and the Coast Guard was always vigilant.

Dredging is a “gray zone strategy with China’s characteristics,” said Sutsuun, a deputy researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security, Taiwan’s top military think tank. “On the one hand, we dred the sand, but it would be great if we could put pressure on Taiwan as well.”

“Psychological warfare”
Sand is only part of the gray zone campaign. China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its territory, has used other irregular tactics to destroy 23 million islands. Most Dramatic: In recent months, the Chinese army, the PLA, has dispatched military aircraft in a menacing invasion of the island. Taiwan scrambles military aircraft almost every day to avoid threats, putting a nasty burden on the Air Force.

Taiwanese military officials and Western analysts say China’s gray zone tactics are intended to deplete resources and erode the island’s military will. According to a Taiwanese security official investigating this issue, China’s sand dredging is one of the psychological warfare against Taiwan, as it is doing in the southwestern airspace of Taiwan, where Chinese jets are invading. Department “.

China’s Taiwanese secretariat said in a Reuters statement that Taiwan’s claim that Beijing allowed sand dredgers to engage in “illegal operations” near the pine and central lines was unfounded. The office said it had taken steps to prevent illegal sand dredging without giving details.

The agency also said Taiwan is “an inseparable part of China.” Taiwanese authorities have used allegations that they control the waters near the island, claiming that they “detain mainland boats and even resort to dangerous and violent means of handling mainland crew members.” doing.

Asked about China’s gray zone behavior, Taiwan’s mainland affairs council, which oversees policy towards China, said the Chinese Communist Party was engaged in “harassment” to put pressure on Taiwan. The council said the government had recently tightened penalties for illegal dredging in its waters.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry did not answer the question.

Xi Jinping Jintao of China, does not rule out the use of force to conquer Taiwan. If he succeeds — by gray zone tactics or a complete war — it will dramatically undermine decades of America’s strategic dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and push China towards excellence in the region. Probably.

Matsu Island is about an hour’s flight from Taipei. They are one of the few archipelago near the Chinese coast that Taiwan has ruled since 1949, when the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek after losing the civil war in China. The Pine, Kinmen and Platas Islands groups are hundreds of kilometers away from mainland Taiwan. Their isolation and the significant decline in Taiwan’s military presence since the end of the Cold War would make them very vulnerable to Chinese attacks.

The pine tree is only 9 kilometers from the coastline of China. The island has a total of nine Coast Guard vessels ranging from 10 to 100 tonnes. According to government officials, the Coast Guard has faced hundreds of Chinese vessels measuring 1,000 to 3,000 tonnes in and around the island’s waters. Taiwan says these waters are 6 kilometers away from the coastline here. China has not officially acknowledged Taiwan’s claim of sovereignty.

At some point last year, more than 200 Chinese sand dredger and transport vessels were found operating south of Nangan, the main islet of pine, three Taiwanese officials said. I told Reuters. Coast Guard commander Lin recalls a similar scene when he and his colleagues encountered a fleet of about 100 Chinese ships on the morning of October 25. That day, he said, his team expelled seven Chinese ships that broke through the pine sea.

“People were frightened by the sight,” he said, referring to the locals. “They were speculating on the purpose of the mainland boats and whether they pose a safety threat to the pine area.”

New boat
At some standoffs, the Taiwanese Coast Guard tried to drive Chinese ships with powerful water cannons. Last year, Taiwan seized four Chinese vessels and detained 37 crew members, according to the Coast Guard. Ten of those arrested were sentenced to six to seven months in prison. Others are still on trial, the Coast Guard said.

Taiwan is in the process of strengthening the Coast Guard in response to some of the dredging threats. Last year, President Tsai Ing-wen commissioned the commissioning of the first ship of a new class of Coast Guard, based on the design of the Navy’s missile boat, the “Aircraft Carrier Killer.”

In December, Mr. Tsai vowed to crack down on China’s dredging in Taiwan’s waters “relentlessly,” and said more than 100 new Coast Guard boats would be built over the next decade. Meanwhile, a large patrol boat was dispatched to temporarily strengthen the Matsu Coast Guard, and 117 members are currently on a 24-hour patrol.

The number of sand dredging vessels off the coast of Matsu fell sharply at the end of last year as the winter weather made the sea rough and difficult to dredge. When the seasons change and the sea calms down, locals fear that dredgers will return.

From the late 1950s to the late 1970s, Chinese troops occasionally bombarded Matsu Island. Remnants of that era can still be found throughout the island’s group, from old air raid tunnels to anti-communist slogans on the steep cliffs of Nangan Island.

Today, pine is a popular tourist destination. The picturesque old stone house has become a fashionable guesthouse.

But locals say Chinese dredging tactics are hurting their lives. Chen Kuo-chan, who runs a seafood restaurant in Nangan, said the dredging has significantly reduced the number of fish caught on the island. Three years ago, 39-year-old Chen said he was hooking 12 rods a day with his rod while fishing on some rocks in Nangan Port. Now he said, he’s having a hard time catching one or two.

The fear of China’s aggression is evident in Nangan. Mr Chen believes that sand dredging could be a precursor to an attack by Chinese troops. “We don’t want to be dominated by mainland China,” he said. “We have freedom, but it’s limited there.”

Tsai Chiachen, who works at the oceanfront bed and breakfast, said there was particular concern ahead of the US presidential election in early November. At that time, Mr Cai said rumors spread that China might be distracted by the elections to launch an attack on Taiwan and seize the window of opportunity with the United States. She remembered that a number of Chinese dredgers around the island became more anxious in late October.

“Our guests were clearly worried,” she said. “There was only one small coast guard vessel in Taiwan, surrounded by many huge dredger vessels.”

Broken cable
Three Taiwanese officials told Reuters five times last year that a dredger had damaged the submarine communication cable between Nangan and another island of the Matsu Group, Ryoko. They said mobile and internet services for the islanders were interrupted. There were no such incidents in 2019.

Chunghwa Telecom, with state support, said it spent NT $ 60 million (about $ 2 million) on cable repairs last year. We also hired local fishing boats and conducted daily patrols to ensure cable safety.

The Coast Guard has seen most of the packed Chinese vessels around the pine heading north towards Wenzhou, where the local Chinese government is promoting a large-scale landfill project. Said that.

The area, known as the Ou Fei project, has been reclaimed for a new economic zone. The area is about 66 square kilometers, which is more than twice the area of ​​the entire Matsu Island. The Wenzhou website describes the project as the city’s “major strategic development for the future.”

The Wenzhou municipal government did not respond to the request for comment.

China detained several dredgers last month following a local-level contact between the two countries, according to the Taiwan Coast Guard. However, Taiwan’s start of a meeting with Fuzhou port city authorities to discuss dredging has been “postponed indefinitely,” and Wang Chien, who oversees the economic development of the local government that manages the pine without explanation, in late December. -hua said.

According to a government internal memo reviewed by Reuters, Taiwan plans to use an online conference to force Chinese authorities to force registration of dredger and punish those who go out to sea without reporting to the authorities. Was there.

Beijing’s Taiwan Secretariat said both local governments maintain “necessary communication and cooperation” to ensure maritime order.

On board his patrol boat, Taiwanese commander Lin sounded rebellious. The Coast Guard said it would “use force to drive away” Chinese ships entering Taiwan’s waters.

“That way, you can reassure the pine people. At this point, you can do this job.” — Reuters

China’s latest weapon against Taiwan: sand dredger China’s latest weapon against Taiwan: sand dredger

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