As tensions between China and Taiwan reach a boiling point, Chinese fishing crews in the Taiwan Strait face uncertain times. Fishing is a way of life for the villagers of Pingtan island, across from Taiwan in the Fujian province of China. For these residents, their livelihoods mean far more to them than politics — making it difficult for them when their trips to sea become fraught with danger due to rising tensions in the region.
Chinese fishermen have for years tussled with Taiwanese authorities over their boats entering the median line of the Taiwan Strait. Fishing for red shrimp, pomfret, and crab, the fishermen bring in just enough income to support their families. Though there are government subsidies in place, diesel costs are rising and wages remain low — creating a difficult situation for these fishermen.
Matters have become worse as China launches military drills in the strait; they forbid the fishermen from crossing the median line, instead limiting them to fish in waters closer to Pingtan. And yet, as Chinese air forces cross the “median line” which Beijing denies exists, these fishermen remain concerned about their livelihoods taking precedence over politics.
Taiwanese authorities have detained Chinese fishing crew members in the past, citing illegal trawling. In a move to address these issues, the China Taiwan Affairs Office has requested the Taiwanese authorities to stop using dangerous tactics against mainland fishermen while seizing their boats.
The increasing hostilities have not stopped the fishermen from sailing out of necessity — though unfortunately, the season ends on May 1st, leaving the fishing crew with no income for THREE months.
The pingtan villagers are in a precarious situation and wish for better relations between the two countries. Lin, a 53-year-old fisherman, desperately hopes that war will never come, and if the time comes, he will be ready to enlist.
While these fishermen grapple with the political uncertainty in the Taiwan Strait, the key players in the region continue to be scrutinized internationally. The current president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen has been subject to harsh criticism by Beijing, labeling her a separatist. She has recently returned from a US visit and Washington has expressed support for Taiwan’s self-governance and autonomy since then.
It remains to be seen how the strategic rivalry between Beijing and Washington will continue to play out, but the Pingtani fishermen remain hopeful that solutions can be found that will not impact their livelihoods.