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China's latest tactic to exert control over Taiwan? Using hundreds of dredgers to carve sand from its coast.

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Insider
Insider
 2021-06-16
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Residents of Matsu island have spotted an uptick in the number of dredgers off the coast of Taiwan that are carving out sand from under them.
  • Residents on the Taiwanese islet of Matsu said they saw an armada of Chinese sand dredgers plying the coast.
  • A Taiwanese politician called the use of sand dredgers a "gray zone" tactic meant to intimidate.
  • A record number of aerial incursions by Chinese planes were also made into Taiwan's air space on Tuesday.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories .

China is ramping up its new method of exerting its control over Taiwan - with hundreds of sand dredgers stealing sand from the island's coastline.

Residents living on the Taiwanese islet of Matsu, which is slightly over 5.5 miles from the Chinese mainland, spotted an armada of some 300 to 400 sand-dredging vessels converging off the coast, per a Nikkei report.

Taiwan is separated from China by the highly militarized Taiwan Strait. The Chinese government has claimed Taiwan as a " renegade province" that is part of its territory, but the Taiwanese view the island as an independently ruled, self-governing state with its own military.

The Chinese government is simultaneously ramping up its intimidation by intruding into the island's air space. Taiwan saw on Tuesday alone a record 28 Chinese air force planes, including fighter jets, that made incursions into its air space. This followed the three-day Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Cornwall, during which President Joe Biden urged world leaders to call Beijing out on its human rights abuses.

Nikkei spoke to Lin Mei-hao, a guesthouse owner, who said the sand dredgers made a loud rumbling noise in the dead of the night as they sucked sand off the ocean floor just miles from Taiwan's coast. The vessels would also beam their bright lights over the coast through the night, and ply the shoreline for hours, Lin said.

Taiwanese politician Lii Wen from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party told Nikkei that the mass deployment of sand dredgers was a "gray zone" tactic that does not amount to warfare but aims to apply pressure by harassing the island's residents.

According to a report by the Japan Times , the massive 3,000-ton sand dredgers have been an intimidating, hulking presence in the Taiwan Strait, putting a strain on the Taiwanese coast guard. The agency told the Japan Times that it had to deploy round-the-clock patrols along the coast.

The Japan Times reported that the Taiwanese coast guard had to repel around 4,000 Chinese sand dredging vessels in 2020 alone - which was a 560% increase from the 600 it chased away in 2019.

Satellite footage seen by Reuters in February recorded an armada of over 200 sand dredging vessels off the coast of Taiwan. In the same article, Reuters noted that in July, Taiwan's coast guard managed to detain a sand dredger, and forced it to cough the sand it scooped up from the island's coast back onto the beaches.

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