China Doubles Down on Friction in Taiwan’s Front-Line Islands


Beijing has warned Taipei not to “stir up trouble” as Taiwan prepares to hold military drills in a group of front-line islands just a stone’s throw from China’s shores.

The land-to-sea live-fire drills, which Taiwanese authorities have stressed are routine rather than retaliatory, will be held April 2 on the Kinmen islands, an archipelago on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, which Taiwan administers as an outlying county.

Kinmen—close enough to be seen with the naked eye from the Chinese port city of Xiamen—was shelled by Communist forces during the Cold War and today remains heavily fortified. It has been the focal point of renewed cross-strait tensions in recent weeks.

Last month, a Chinese fishing boat that had allegedly intruded into Taiwanese claimed waters near Kinmen overturned while fleeing Taiwan’s coast guard, resulting in the drowning deaths of two on board. Beijing decried the alleged harsh and unfair treatment of its citizens, and days later deployed its own coast guard to the area.

Since mid-February, Chinese coast guard ships have been entering what Taiwan says are restricted waters around Kinmen. Taiwan-based experts said Beijing was using the recent accident as a pretext to chip away at Taiwan’s de facto jurisdiction over the islets, risking conflict in the process.

China views Taiwan as part of Chinese territory and has vowed to eventually unify it with the mainland, including through the use of force. The ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has never ruled there, and the democratically elected government in Taipei rejects the long-running sovereignty claim.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and there is no such thing as ‘forbidden and restricted waters’ in the Xiamen-Kinmen waters,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian said at a monthly press briefing on Thursday.

Wu said Chinese coast guard personnel were carrying out inspections and law enforcement to maintain order and to guarantee “the safety of the lives and property of fishermen on both sides of the strait.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Tourists Visit Taiwan's Frontline Island Kinmen
This picture taken on December 5, 2023, shows tourists visiting the Triangle Fortress on Taiwan’s front-line island of Kinmen, where conflict with Chinese Communist forces occurred decades earlier. This month, Taiwan accused China of deploying…

Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Taipei, said on Wednesday that China would closely monitor Taiwan’s upcoming military exercise near its coast.

“We have paid close attention to the movements of the Taiwan military in Kinmen, and if they provoke and stir up trouble—if they dare to act rashly and recklessly—they will surely be defeated,” Chen said.

The official said the people of Kinmen, having witnessed the transition from the cross-strait warfare of the 1940s and 1950s to the present calm, now cherish peace and oppose war “all the more.”

Tzu-chieh Hung, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research think tank, told Newsweek recently that China had chosen to deploy its coast guard because it “not only reduces the likelihood and severity of conflicts, but also tends to garner less international backlash.”