Taiwan investigating claim that China asylum seeker crossed over in dinghy

The Taiwan Strait is one of the world's most heavily policed waterways. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's Defence Minister on Monday (May 3) said the authorities were investigating whether a man from mainland China had managed to cross the Taiwan Strait in a rubber dinghy in a bid to seek political sanctuary.

On Saturday, police said a man surnamed Zhou had been detained in Taichung city's harbour after locals spotted him near a dyke and said he was behaving suspiciously.

Police said the man told them he had travelled from Fujian on China's south-eastern coast in a rubber dinghy fitted with an outboard motor and 90 litres of fuel.

The man said he wanted to move to Taiwan to seek "freedom and democracy", police said.

Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said "shortcomings" in how the Taiwan Strait is policed were being investigated because of the man's journey.

"We will get in touch with the coast guard, we will notify each other when there is a situation, to find out the reasons and make improvements," Mr Chiu told reporters on Monday.

The Taiwan Strait is one of the world's most heavily policed waterways.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Navy and coast guard vessels from both sides keep a close eye on the 180km strait.

While there have been historical defections between the two sides - and some Chinese nationals have flown to Taiwan to ask for sanctuary - journeys across the length of the strait are rare, especially given that Taipei controls a few islands that are just a few miles off China's coastline and much closer.

Weather in the strait is also notoriously unpredictable and seeking sanctuary in Taiwan is a risky tactic.

The island does not recognise the concept of asylum, partly because it fears infiltration by Chinese agents and also because it wants to discourage any influx during times of crises.

Illegal immigrants from mainland China have been returned, but Taipei does sometimes turn a blind eye to dissidents.

Over the years, some mainland Chinese refugees have been quietly granted permission to stay, while Taiwan has also welcomed Hong Kongers trying to escape Beijing's crackdown in the financial hub.

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