Taiwan ramps up security for new president’s inauguration amid China threat

Taipei’s defence ministry says it detected seven Chinese aircraft and as many naval vessels around Taiwan in the past 24 hours.

A Chinese military helicopter flies over Pingtan island
A Chinese military helicopter flies over Pingtan Island, the closest point in China to Taiwan's main island [Hector Retamal/AFP]

On the eve of Lai Ching-te’s inauguration as Taiwan’s new president, the island’s coastguard has ramped up patrols over the weekend amid the increased presence of Chinese vessels.

Taipei’s Coast Guard Administration said on Sunday it had sent out personnel to “patrol all hours of the day and night” around Taiwan’s three major outlying islands: Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu.

“In order to ensure the security of the sea area and border safety during the inauguration ceremony, the Ocean Affairs Council’s Coast Guard Administration’s Kinmen-Matsu-Penghu Division once again implemented a powerful patrol operation … to closely monitor suspicious targets,” it said in a statement.

“The Kinmen-Matsu-Penghu Division said that the national security work will not slacken during the important celebrations,” it added.

Taipei’s Ministry of National Defense earlier reported that it had detected seven Chinese aircraft and seven naval vessels around Taiwan in the 24-hour period leading up to 6am on Sunday (22:00 GMT, Saturday).

Lai spent his Sunday fishing shrimp with leaders from some of Taiwan’s handful of remaining diplomatic allies, including Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine.

King Mswati III of Eswatini (L), Taiwan's President-elect Lai Ching-te (C) and Taiwan's Vice President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (R) fish at the Zhishan Shrimp Fishing Farm in Taipei on May 19, 2024. Taiwan's President-elect Lai Ching-te and his deputy Hsiao Bi-khim hauled visiting foreign dignitaries, including presidents and a king, along for the fishing expedition at the Zhishan Shrimp Fishing Farm in the capital Taipei on May 19. (Photo by Aden HSU / POOL / AFP)
King Mswati III of Eswatini, left, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te, centre, and Taiwan’s Vice President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim, right, fish at a shrimp farm in Taipei [Aden Hsu/AFP]

Only 12 countries now maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, mostly poorer developing nations.

Lai, detested by Beijing as a “separatist”, is expected to pledge to secure stability by maintaining the status quo in the island’s relationship with China in his inauguration speech on Monday.

Before his inauguration, supporters of the opposition Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) are set to march in Taipei to protest against Lai’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and demand that Lai carry out parliamentary, judicial and constitutional reforms.

‘Dangerous separatist’

China claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, maintaining a near-daily military presence with frequent appearances of fighter jets, drones and naval ships around the island.

It has in recent months sent in coastguard ships around Kinmen, an outlying island administered by Taipei located just 5km (3 miles) from the Chinese city of Xiamen.

Kinmen has been the site of ramped-up tensions after Lai, whom China has branded a “dangerous separatist”, was elected in Taiwan’s January elections.

A deadly fishing incident in February involving a Chinese speedboat kicked off a row between China and Taiwan, which has yet to be resolved.

It was carrying four people and capsized on February 14 near Kinmen while Taiwan’s coastguard was pursuing it, killing two people.

Taipei’s coastguard defended its actions, saying the boat was within “prohibited waters” and zigzagging before it capsized. But Beijing has accused Taipei of “hiding the truth” about the incident.

China has since stepped up patrols around Kinmen. At least five formations of official Chinese ships have briefly sailed through Kinmen’s restricted waters this month.

Across the strait in the Chinese seaside city of Pingtan, also home to a military base, the AFP news agency said its reporters saw at least two military transport helicopters fly overhead on Sunday morning.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies