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A Chinese man paddled for ten hours across the Taiwan Strait in a rubber dinghy — and told the Taiwanese police he left his native country in search of “freedom and equality” in a video taken of the man’s arrest.
According to the Washington Post, the 35-year-old man, known only by the last name Zhou, rowed across the Strait — a 112-mile stretch of sea that separates southeastern China from Taiwan.
The Post wrote that the man rowed his way across the Strait for ten hours on Saturday, sailing across on the rubber raft he purchased on Chinese e-commerce shopping site Taobao. He told the cops he outfitted the dinghy with a motor and carried 23 gallons of fuel with him. Authorities found no other belongings on Zhou’s person.
According to a report by the Guardian, he traveled from the seaside city of Quanzhou in China’s Fujian province, and made his way across the Strait unnoticed — despite it being highly-policed and heavily patrolled by both the Chinese and Taiwan navies.
A US Defense Department report estimated that China has over 255 ships in the region, many of them armed to the teeth. The Strait has also been visited by US warships multiple times in freedom-of-navigation operations, a move that has not gone down well with China.
A video on Instagram circulated of Zhou sitting at the Taichung harbor, being interviewed by police officers. The Post confirmed the video’s legitimacy with the Taiwanese Central Branch of the Coast Guard Administration.
In the video, Zhou is seen holding what looks like a packet of food and telling officers that he was seeking “freedom and equality” in Taiwan. He is also heard telling officers that life in China is “all kinds of bad” and that he was not attempting to escape being arrested in China for serious crimes like murder.
Dinghy crossing reveals holes in Taiwan’s coastal defenses
The AFP reported that the Taiwanese government was also investigating if there were “shortcomings” in how the Taiwan Strait is monitored.
“We will get in touch with the coastguard, and we will notify each other when there is a situation, to find out the reasons and make improvements,” said Taiwan defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng to the AFP.
According to the South China Morning Post, Chiu was also asked if Zhou’s illegal crossing could have been a scheme to test how secure Taiwan’s coastal defenses were. He replied that the defense ministry would “take all aspects into consideration and make preparations for all scenarios.”
Zhou’s crossing “shows that even with the aid of radars, our coastguard or navy is not able to track the movements of small floating craft like rubber dinghies and bamboo rafts,” Taiwanese lawmaker Tsai Shih-ying told the SCMP.
The BBC wrote that Zhou has been taken into police custody and is serving a 14-day quarantine at a Taiwanese detention center.
Crossings from China to Taiwan are few and far between, with the last known attempt to do so involving a group of ten Hong Kong protesters who tried to escape from the island and flee to Taiwan on a speedboat in August of last year. They were picked up by a Chinese coast guard vessel and jailed after being tried in Shenzhen, in mainland China.
CNN wrote that Taiwan does not officially allow asylum seekers to cross its borders. As such, Zhou may be jailed for three years or fined up to 90,000 New Taiwan dollars ($3,220) for the illegal crossing.