Taiwan has detained a Chinese tanker for allegedly illegal entry into its territorial waters, Taiwanese media report, adding that the six-member crew has been arrested.

Taiwan has stepped up coast guard patrols off the western coast of the country to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Media reports said that the crew of the Chinese tanker, which has remained unnamed, were tested for any outward signs of infection, but none were found.

The incident is likely to fuel already substantial tension between China and Taiwan after China expanded its military and navy activity around the breakaway island in the last few months. The expansion coincided with the action taken by Taiwan to distance itself from the mainland further, first by renaming its air carrier—previously called China Airlines—and then by highlighting “Taiwan” on local citizens’ passports, CNBC reported earlier this month.

This escalation has had some worried that things might deteriorate further, eventually culminating in an open military conflict, not least because Taiwan is also involved in the tension between the United States and China. The U.S. is bound by law to help Taiwan defend itself, and it seems to be taking this duty seriously, increasing its presence in the Taiwan Strait recently, according to CNBC’s Huileng Tan.

President Trump has made no secret of his intentions to forge closer links with Taiwan, according to some as one more way to alienate Beijing. The latest instance of this course of action was the visit of U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar to Taiwan. Azar arrived on the island this weekend and is the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit Taiwan in 40 years.

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“The Chinese recognize that in the near-term, they do not have the capacity to really ‘retake’ Taiwan, not only militarily, but in particular economically and politically,” Stratfor’s senior vice president of strategy analysis Rodger Baker told CNBC’s Tan.

Yet this does not mean it cannot continue to intimidate the island, which, in turn, seems determined to stay its own course of distancing itself further and further from the mainland.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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