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China Tests "Kinmen Model" for Expanding its Maritime Domain

China Coast Guard
A substantial China Coast Guard presence transits into Taiwanese-controlled waters off Kinmen, May 2024 (PLA handout image)

Published May 14, 2024 11:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Chinese government is experimenting with another way to assert its maritime claims in contested areas. By providing useful coast guard services inside a neighboring state's maritime boundaries, without the state's consent, China can demonstrate its sovereignty over new areas while maintaining a lower level of confrontation. The test case is the area around Kinmen, a Taiwanese-administered island just a few miles off mainland China. Based on positive early results, Beijing is quietly raising the possibility that it could begin enforcing Chinese maritime law across the Taiwan Strait. 

Because of its location, Kinmen has long been a flashpoint for tensions between Taiwan and mainland China. According to Taipei, Chinese fishermen and sand dredgers regularly cross the line into Taiwanese waters off Kinmen. Beijing does not recognize the Taipei government, and insists that it has sovereignty over all Taiwanese territory, including its maritime boundaries. In February, two Chinese nationals were killed while trying to flee the Taiwan Coast Guard Administration in a speedboat off Kinmen, sparking a new round of confrontation. 

The incident drew outrage from Beijing, and the China Coast Guard has been steadily racheting up its presence off Kinmen. Last Thursday, Taiwanese authorities counted 11 Chinese government vessels within Kinmen's (tacitly-agreed) boundaries - a new record. Seven Chinese patrol and fishery vessels carried out a rescue exercise with three Chinese fishing boats, then departed. They approached to within about four nautical miles of Kinmen's shores, according to Taiwanese authorities. 

In a brief statement, China's military news service said that Chinese forces carried out "regular law enforcement patrols" off Kinmen because it was foggy and visibility was low. The largest-ever flotilla of Chinese patrol vessels responded to the fog and crossed the boundary "to ensure the safety of fishermen's lives and property."

Off the record, a Chinese official told state media account Yuyuan Tantian that the "Kinmen model" for growing Chinese maritime control could be expanded across the entire Taiwan Strait. 

"Once the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese fishermen are infringed, the CCG can refer to the 'Kinmen model' to establish a normalized law enforcement patrol," explained state outlet Global Times.