The Taiwanese Coast Guard has sounded the alarm that China is using a new method of aggression in its fight to reclaim control over Taiwan -- sand.
According to Reuters, Chinese sand-dredging vessels are encroaching on waters controlled by Taiwan. The purpose of this is two-fold. The first is to tie down the "island democracy's naval defenses" and alarm citizens; the second is to remove the physical barrier that separates the two countries while damaging infrastructure in the process.
In the first objective, Taiwanese officials said the coast guard has been forced to focus time and resources on the issue -- necessitating money and energy which would otherwise have benefited the Matsu residents. For example, Taiwan's navy has been forced to operate "round-the-clock patrols" to keep the Chinese vessels at bay.
"They think this area is part of China's territory," Coast Guard Commander Lin Chie-ming explained of the ships. "They usually leave after we drive them away, but they come back again after we go away."
The second consequence of the encroachment is degradation of the physical sand bar barrier that separates the two countries. Currently, the Taiwan Strait offers a natural separation and geographical defense for the island nation. However, it is quickly eroding as vessels from the Middle Kingdom continue to scoop up sand.
Moreover, though the Xi Jinping-controlled regime might claim the sand-dredging is to find new materials for construction projects, it also has the added consequence of hurting the infrastructure of the Democratic island, including underwater communication cables.
In 2020, Taiwan was forced to oust around 4,000 Chinese sand-dredgers and sand-transporting boats that were in Taiwanese waters. In 2019, the number of those ships was around 600 -- meaning there has been a 560 percent increase of Chinese ships over the past 12 months.
In addition, the continued presence of ships has caused fear among the citizens of Taiwan, with locals noting at times that 200 boats have hovered by the coastline.
"People were frightened by the scene," Lin said, referring to local residents. "They were speculating about the purpose of the mainland boats and whether they would pose a security threat to the Matsu region."
Many analysts refer to the encroachment as a form of "psychological warfare."
The dredging is a "gray-zone strategy with Chinese characteristics," explained Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at Taiwan's top military think tank, the Institute for National Defense and Security Research. "You dredge for sand on the one hand, but if you can also put pressure on Taiwan, then that's great, too."
The aggression comes as Taiwan continues to maintain its independence from China, despite the mainland's position that it is part of the Middle Kingdom.