A Chinese man smuggled himself to Taiwan in a military-grade rubber dinghy without being detected; the military and police learned about the incident after a member of the public reported it.
Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng admitted on May 3 that it was a lapse of the navy and maritime patrol. Some Taiwanese expressed concern about whether there is more to this case than just a simple smuggling case.
The 33-year-old Chinese man surnamed Zhou said that he set off from Fujian, China, at 10 a.m. on April 30 and came to Taiwan for freedom. His military-grade rubber dinghy was purchased from China’s online shopping website Taobao, with a motor that he installed. Altogether, it cost him 16,000 yuan (about $2,500). He bought 90 liters (almost 24 gallons) of fuel for the trip.
According to Chinese language media reports, he crossed the Taiwan Strait undetected by both PLA and Taiwanese navy, maritime patrols, and shore patrols. After reaching the Taichung Port for two hours he saw workers passing by and called for help. The workers bought him food and provided him with clothes. After they learned that Zhou had sailed across the Taiwan Strait from the mainland, they called the police.
According to a statement issued by Taiwan police, Zhou is currently being detained and investigated for violating Taiwan’s national security and immigration laws. Taiwan is not bound by the Refugee Convention and thus does not accept people seeking asylum.
From Shishi, Fujian to Taichung Port, it is about 100 nautical miles. The rubber boat can travel at a speed of more than 10 knots and takes about 10 hours to arrive. As the weather has been very good the past few days, sailing is easier, according to local fishermen.
However, politicians and military experts think there might be more to Zhou’s simple smuggling story.
An online video shows the Taiwan police question Zhou at the Taichung Port and his rubber boat.
Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wang Ting-yu questioned the incident in a Legislative Yuan’s meeting on May 3, asking whether the rubber dinghy really came directly from Fujian. Hu Muyuan, deputy director of the National Security Bureau, said that the Marine Patrol Department and the Taichung Port Police Corps are investigating and various possibilities are being considered. Rear Admiral Chiang Cheng-kuo, Chief of Staff of Taiwan’s Naval Command, said that the Marine Patrol Agency’s radar may be able to detect this type of small rubber boat, but the navy’s shore-mounted radar cannot.
In an interview before the legislature meeting, Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng, said that this incident indeed revealed some loopholes in the navy and the maritime patrol’s operations. He said that the military will strengthen communication with the maritime patrol, and find out what loopholes are revealed from the incident, and gradually improve.
Former Taiwan Naval Academy instructor Lu Lishi commented on Facebook that although military-grade rubber boats can definitely cross the strait, they must sail at the right time and ocean condition with proper navigation. He questioned how Zhou learned about the ocean conditions from the brief weather forecast and how he was able to navigate in the vast sea, “Too many coincidences are put together, it is definitely not a coincidence.”
Lu added that although one person in one boat can successfully cross the strait without being detected, it does not mean that “a hundred people and a hundred boats” or “a thousand people and a thousand boats” can also sneak into Taiwan in the same way.
This article was updated to include a police statement saying Zhou was being investigated for violating Taiwan’s laws.