According to police captain Shih Chun-hsu, the man, named Zhou, was spotted late Friday night near Taichung Port after crossing an approximately 80-kilometer stretch of water from Fujian Province on China’s east coast.
He travels in a dinghy equipped with an outboard engine with 90 liters of fuel.
Zhou was detained in the early hours of Saturday and told police he took a vacation to the island of Taiwan in search of “freedom and democracy.” He is currently in quarantine while police investigate his story and ensure he is not a fugitive from justice.
The Taiwan Strait is one of the most militarized water strips in the world and is patrolled by both the Chinese and Taiwanese navies. According to a recent estimate by the US Department of Defense, China alone has more than 255 Coast Guard ships, as well as dozens of heavily armed naval ships in the region. The strait is also transited semi-regularly by the US Navy in freedom of navigation operations.
The Republic of China (ROC), as Taiwan is officially known, is not a member of the United Nations or is bound by the Refugee Convention. The island does not allow people to formally seek asylum, and anyone found guilty of entering the country illegally faces up to three years in prison and a fine of 90,000 new Taiwan dollars ($ 3,200).
Zhou is under investigation for violating Taiwan’s national security and immigration laws, a police statement said.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have been mounting in recent months as Beijing intensified air and naval exercises around the self-governing island, which the Communist Party considers part of its territory and vowed to “unite” with mainland China by force if necessary.
In an interview with Britain’s Sky News last week, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said China was “preparing for its latest military attack” on the island, promising to “defend ourselves to the end.”
“Taiwan is at the forefront of expanding China’s authoritarian order,” Wu said. “And if Taiwan is taken over by China, I think the consequences will be global.”
Washington’s engagement with Taipei has increased dramatically under President Donald Trump, a trend that has largely continued under President Joe Biden.
Last month, the State Department issued new guidelines reflecting “the deepening of our informal relations,” allowing various government agencies and officials to engage more with Taiwanese counterparts, although Washington does not officially recognize the ROC.
“We have a strong commitment that Taiwan can defend itself,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in April. “It would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change this status quo by force.”