Taiwan concedes territorial waters near China

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The Taiwan government said on Monday it was not claiming the territorial waters around two small islands that have long been part of its frontline defense against political rival China.

Taiwan retains control over the tiny island chains of Kinmen and Matsu but does not claim the ocean around them, the Taiwan government said in a notice stating its position for the first time amid warming ties with Beijing.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

But ties have warmed since China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office last year, brokering landmark trade deals.

“It’s all linked, improving relations with China, and then China helps Taiwan improve its economy, which will help Ma Ying-jeou get re-elected,” said Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei.

Earlier this year, Taiwan began removing anti-ship barricades in Kinmen, also known as Quemoy, as part of a broader effort to demilitarize the islands. The barricades are rows of spikes rooted on cement bases to stop warships from landing troops.

China and Taiwan’s outlying islands are as close as two kilometers from each other in the Taiwan Strait and have been patrolled by both sides without incident for decades, a government spokesman in Taipei said.

Governments normally claim waters 12 nautical miles offshore.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Bill Tarrant